Increased access to clean drinking water could improve student health

By Eric Galatas, Public News Service (Nebraska)

LYONS, Neb. – Children spend a significant portion of their days in school for most of the calendar year, and public health advocates are concerned that too many are not drinking enough water, which can lead to a host of negative issues.

Jordan Rasmussen, policy manager for the Center for Rural Affairs, says insufficient water intake poses long-term health risks, and because dehydrated brains are not as sharp, children find it harder to stay focused in class.

"Here in the state of Nebraska, our students are not consuming enough water, and it's leading to obesity issues, which, as they come into adulthood, that leads to long term health impacts as well as being costly for our state and our health care system," she states.

Increasing water consumption throughout the day is linked to lower calorie intake, reduced dental decay and fewer cavities.

Nebraska ranks in the top quarter of states for high school obesity rates. The state's current childhood obesity rates are projected to cost taxpayers $487 million in future health care costs and lost productivity.

Less than a third of high school age children currently drink the recommended 10 glasses per day, and one in four drinks less than one per day.

Children from ages nine to 13 should drink nine glasses, and four to eight-year-olds should drink seven.

Rasmussen maintains the state has a role to play in helping schools develop solutions.

"If they are undergoing a new construction project or doing a major renovation of a school, that they require water fountains be installed and accessible for students throughout the school day," she states.

Part of the problem is structural – older facilities with aging pipes that don't produce cold, clean tasting drinking water.

Some schools have added water bottle filling stations, and Rasmussen says with a little extra effort and good policy, all students in Nebraska could have free access to safe drinking water.

Click here to listen to the interview with Rasmussen.