Most schools meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s drinking-water requirements, but that doesn’t mean that students are drinking enough water, according to a new study.
The study, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in April, was produced by researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of Illinois at Chicago to examine schools participating in the National School Lunch Program. The USDA mandated increased access to free drinking water as part of the program, beginning in the 2011-2012 school year. Most schools met the requirement through cafeteria drinking fountains, water pitchers, or bottled water. Schools in the South were more likely to meet the requirements than other schools in the nation.
While researchers found that most school drinking fountains were clean, some students still expressed concern over cleanliness and the quality of the drinking water. About a quarter of middle and high school students attended schools where respondents indicated “a little” concern about drinking water quality.
While access is increasing, that doesn’t necessarily mean that consumption is. Less than one-third of children and teenagers consumed the recommended daily water intake, which for younger children is 5 cups and for teens is 8 to 11 cups each day. One-fourth of adolescents drink less than one serving of water a day, many opting for sugary beverages instead.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, soft drink consumption increased by 48 percent from 1977 to 2001 among children and teens.
And practicality may still be a barrier to student water consumption, the study notes. The presence of water fountains may not, by itself, be enough to encourage water consumption. Without water readily available at their lunch tables, students have to make special trips to water fountains, where they may also have to wait in line. And younger students may need permission to get up from their lunch tables to get to a water fountain.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.