Pamela A. Popper, Ph.D., N.D.

Wellness Forum Health

Everyone is concerned with increasing obesity rates in children. There are no simple answers for this very complicated problem, and one major impediment to progress is that so many people have so many different ideas about the right diet, the right exercise plan, and many other variables concerning children’s health and welfare. I’ve always contended that there are a few strategies on which we can almost all agree and we should start with those. One of them is encouraging children to drink more water instead of other high-calorie liquids. Almost everyone thinks this is a good idea, except, of course the companies that make the high-calorie beverages.

A study of New York City schoolchildren shows that increasing water intake displaces high-calorie drinks, and results in a small but significant decrease in BMI.

The study included 1227 public elementary and middle schools, with 1,065,562 students. Water dispensers called water jets, were installed in 483 of the schools.  The jets, which cost about $1000 each, chill and oxygenate tap water, and children access it with a push lever. The researchers designed the study to see if drinking more water and reducing milk purchases would be effective for weight loss.

In schools that received water jets, both elementary and middle school boys and girls showed drops in BMI. The water jets also reduced the likelihood of normal-weight boys and girls from becoming overweight. The researchers attributed the change to both increases in water intake and corresponding decreases in higher calorie beverages, including milk. There was a significant 12.3% decrease in the number of all types of milk purchased and consumed by students at schools that had water jets.

The researchers wrote, “Water jets could be an important part of the toolkit for obesity reduction techniques at the school setting.”  They noted the low cost of water jets and suggested that more research should look at several mechanisms for weight loss for children, including reduced milk drinking.

The study was conducted by the NYU Langone Medical Center, and published in JAMA Pediatrics. I’m frankly shocked that this study was conducted and the results published, since milk is so aggressively promoted in schools, and the dairy industry invests millions of dollars to protect its distribution system. Let’s hope that this is the first step in getting industry out of our schools and helping children to adopt more healthy habits as part of public education.

 

Schwartz A, Leardo M, Aneja S. “Effect of a School-Based Water Intervention on Child Body Mass Index and Obesity.” JAMA Pediatr. Published online January 19, 2016.

1Maxwell School, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York
2New York University Institute for Education and Social Policy, New York
3New York University School of Medicine, New York
4New York University Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, New York doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.3778