Perceptions About Availability and Adequacy of Drinking Water in a Large California School District

Published in: Preventing Chronic Disease, v. 7, no. 2, Mar. 2010, p. 1-10

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2009

by Anisha I. Patel, Laura M. Bogart, Kimberly E. Uyeda, Alexa Rabin, Mark A. Schuster

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Introduction: Concerns about the influence of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption on obesity have led experts to recommend that water be freely available in schools. We explored perceptions about the adequacy of drinking water provision in a large California school district to develop policies and programs to encourage student water consumption. Methods: From March to September 2007, we used semistructured interviews to ask 26 California key stakeholders - including school administrators and staff, health and nutrition agency representatives, and families - about school drinking water accessibility; attitudes about, facilitators of, and barriers to drinking water provision; and ideas for increasing water consumption. Interviews were analyzed to determine common themes. Results: Although stakeholders said that water was available from school drinking fountains, they expressed concerns about the appeal, taste, appearance, and safety of fountain water and worried about the affordability and environmental effect of bottled water sold in schools. Stakeholders supported efforts to improve free drinking water availability in schools, but perceived barriers (eg, cost) and mistaken beliefs that regulations and beverage contracts prohibit serving free water may prevent schools from doing so. Some schools provide water through cold-filtered water dispensers and self-serve water coolers. Conclusion: This is the first study to explore stakeholder perceptions about the adequacy of drinking water in US schools. Although limited in scope, our study suggests that water available in at least some schools may be inadequate. Collaborative efforts among schools, communities, and policy makers are needed to improve school drinking water provision.

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