February 01, 2016
2 min read

School water coolers associated with reduced BMI among students

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The installation of water coolers was linked to reduced weight and BMI of elementary and middle school students, according to recent research in JAMA Pediatrics.

“The goal of this study was to estimate the impact of a relatively low-cost, school-based water availability intervention, water jets, on standardized BMI, overweight, and obesity in elementary school and middle school students,” Amy Ellen Schwartz, PhD, of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, and colleagues wrote. “Results indicated a statistically significant decrease in standardized BMI, likelihood of being overweight, and likelihood of obesity for boys and a significant decrease in standardized BMI and likelihood of being overweight for girls.”

The researchers analyzed annual height and weight measurements from 1,065,562 students at 1,227 elementary and middle schools in New York City. Student data were compared based on the installation of water coolers in certain schools to determine the effect of water availability on student weight. Students were categorized as overweight or obese based on CDC growth chart criteria. The researchers utilized student data from the 2008-2009 to 2012-2013 school years.

The installation of water coolers was associated with a 0.025 (95% CI, –0.038 to –0.011) reduction of standardized BMI for boys and a 0.022 (95% CI, –0.035 to –0.008) reduction of standardized BMI among girls. Water cooler installation also was significantly associated with a reduced likelihood of students being overweight, with a 0.9 percentage point (95% CI, –0.015 to –0.003) reduction among boys and a 0.6 percentage point (95% CI, –0.011 to 0.0) reduction in girls.

The researchers wrote that each student purchased 12.3 fewer half-pints of milk of any type annually in schools with water coolers compared with schools without coolers, suggesting an impact on the amount of fatty beverages consumed (P < .01).

“Additional research is needed to examine potential mechanisms for decreased student weight, including reduced milk taking, as well as assessing impacts on longer-term outcomes,” Schwartz and colleagues wrote. “Water jets could be an important part of the toolkit for obesity reduction techniques at the school setting.”

In a related editorial, Lindsey Turner, PhD, of Boise State University, and Erin Hager, PhD, of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, acknowledged Schwartz and colleagues for measuring the significant impact that a simple intervention had on student BMI.

“The study by Schwartz and colleagues … adds to a growing body of evidence supporting the importance of providing drinking water access in schools,” Turner and Hager wrote. “In light of the many health and academic benefits to providing students with abundant access to free, appealing sources of drinking water during the school day, this simple, relatively low-cost intervention offers a win not only for children and their families, but also for educators and health care professionals.” – by David Costill

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.