One way to protect baby teeth (see yesterday’s post, “Taking Care of Baby Teeth”) and the adult teeth that follow is to offer children more water to drink, and less sugar-sweetened beverages such as sodas and juice. But there are additional benefits of drinking water that can help children stay healthy. A new study, published last week in JAMA Pediatrics, demonstrated that increasing the access to water for drinking in schools has a big impact on the prevalence of pediatric overweight and obesity.
More than one million New York City public elementary school and middle school students took part in this very simple study. Body mass measurements were collected on these students before the city’s ban on the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages in schools and again after the ban went into effect. In place of vending machines selling these drinks, the schools installed water jets in the schools’ cafeterias. Megan A. Moreno, M.D. reviews the results:
Water jets are electrically cooled, large clear jugs that can provide a fast stream of cool water. The schools provided plastic cups for students to use with the water jets. The researchers wanted to know whether the change from sugar-sweetened beverages in vending machines to water jets would affect the students’ weight. They found that the adoption of water jets was associated with a reduction in the average weight of students as measured by body mass index (calculated as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared). The researchers also found that there was a decrease in the likelihood of being overweight. These changes happened after the sugar-sweetened beverages were removed from the schools and the water jets were placed in the school cafeterias.
Dr. Moreno offers these suggestions to parents to help children enjoy drinking water:
- Serve water at meals and during snacks so that your child gets used to drinking water when he or she is thirsty.
- Buy a reusable water bottle that your child can take to school. You do not need to buy bottled water; tap water is perfectly fine and has fluoride to help protect your child’s teeth, whereas bottled water has little if any fluoride.
- Do not buy sugar-sweetened beverages to keep at home; not having them around can help your child to choose to drink water. However, if you do choose to buy them, then purchase small quantities to provide as an occasional treat rather than as an everyday beverage.
Above all, it’s okay for parents to offer their children a choice of beverages: water, milk, or nothing. (Remember: “nothing” is always an option, and kids are allowed to choose it.)