Water First school drinking water intervention shows promise in preventing childhood overweight

Aug 7, 2023

A study, “Effectiveness of a School Drinking Water Promotion and Access Program for Overweight Prevention,” led by Dr. Anisha Patel from Stanford University, along with researchers from the University of California's Nutrition Policy Institute and UC San Francisco, finds that a school-based intervention to enable and promote tap water consumption can prevent overweight in 4th-grade students. The randomized controlled trial analyzed data collected from 1262 students at 18 low-income, ethnically diverse elementary schools in California. The Water First program included the installation of a water dispenser with cups in the cafeteria, and two water bottle filling stations in other high-traffic areas of each school, classroom lessons related to healthy beverage choice, and schoolwide water promotion over one school year. Researchers observed a 3.2 percentage point difference in the prevalence of overweight among students in intervention schools compared to those in schools that did not receive the intervention. National standards set by Healthy People call for a 2.3% reduction in childhood obesity by 2030. While Water First did not affect obesity prevalence, it prevented overweight—an important target for preventing the onset of obesity. The study is a significant addition to the evidence base on the importance of enabling the consumption of plain water given its finding that improving and promoting access to safe and appealing drinking water can prevent weight gain in children. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, will be featured in the September 2023 issue of Pediatrics and was published online on August 7, 2023. A short video of study findings is available in English and Spanish, and the study was featured in multiple media outlets including an August 7, 2023 news story in HealthDay, "Some Schools Respond to Child Obesity by Focusing on Water," an August 7, 2023 video in CBS News, "Getting kids to drink more water at school may prevent excess weight gain," an August 10, 2023 news story in CNN, "How water-bottle fill stations can impact children's health, according to a new study," and an August 10, 2023 article in Physicians Weekly, "School-based water promotion program associated with lower overweight prevalence." The Water First intervention materials are available online. Dr. Patel is a member of the National Drinking Water Alliance, which is coordinated by NPI.

By Christina EA Hecht
Author - UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute Academic Coordinator
By Danielle Lee
Editor - Director of Communications & Research Engagement
By Lorrene Ritchie
Editor - Director of the Nutrition Policy Institute and Cooperative Extension Nutrition Specialist