Could the key to preventing childhood weight gain be as simple as providing students with refillable water bottles during their school day?
Researchers from Stanford University evaluated the impact of school programs that promote drinking water throughout the day. They published the findings of their study this week in the journal Pediatrics.
Stanford researchers followed 1,544 fourth-grade students in low-income schools in Northern California from August 2016 through March 2020. The students were split into two groups, with some participating in a program called Water First while others had normal access to drinking water.
For the students in Water First, tap water stations were installed throughout multiple schools in high-traffic areas. Students were given refillable cups and bottles. They also received lessons on the importance of drinking water.
While there was a reduction in the prevalence of overweight children among those in Water First, students who participated in the programs were no less likely to be obese. Researchers said, however, that preventing kids from becoming overweight could be helpful in preventing obesity.
"Water First holds promise for preventing overweight in children, with a greater effect size than previous school-based water interventions," the authors wrote. "The study adds substantively to the limited rigorous evidence examining the impact of school-based drinking water promotion and access programs on overweight for children from low-income, ethnically diverse backgrounds who are at greatest risk."
The researchers said that more intensive interventions may be needed to reduce rising childhood obesity rates.
"Although Water First did not affect obesity prevalence, it achieved comparable prevention of overweight, an important target for addressing obesity in adulthood," they wrote. "Despite the small effects of school-based obesity prevention programs like Water First, they have the potential to impact large numbers of children at a lower cost than more intensive clinical interventions."
The research followed a pair of previous, smaller studies on students in New York City and Germany that garnered similar results.
"The Water First intervention was more comprehensive than previous interventions because it coupled water education and promotion with the installation of appealing drinking water sources throughout the school," the authors wrote. "The larger effect found here could also result from differences in school food environments or differences in baseline weight status, since previous studies were conducted in New York City and Germany. German and U.S. schools differ in that the latter often serve juice and flavored (sugar-sweetened) milk."
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