Access to free drinking water lacking in 54% of Mass. middle, high schools

by Kenney EL, originally posted on June 16, 2016


Research in The Journal of Adolescent Health found that more than half of the middle and high schools studied in Massachusetts did not meet state or federal policies for minimum drinking water access for students during lunch.

“Our study found that when a student in a Massachusetts school is thirsty, he or she may have trouble finding a place to get a drink of water, especially without having to pay for it,” Erica L. Kenney. ScD, of the department of social and behavioral sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a press release. “We have federal and state policies that are designed to guarantee free, safe drinking water access, but many schools that we visited struggled to meet these policies. Schools may need help with strategizing how to provide safe, clean, appealing drinking water to students at a level of access that allows kids to stay healthy and hydrated.”

The researchers conducted on-site reviews at 59 middle and high schools to determine the type, location and working condition of all drinking water sources throughout each school. Water source information also was gathered via surveys from food services directors at 48 of the sample schools. The researchers used statistical analysis to determine the average number of free water sources per school cafeteria and estimate coding compliance. Data from food service director surveys were compared to on-site observations to identify discrepancies.

Study results showed that only 59% of schools met 2012 state plumbing code regulations requiring one plumbed drinking water source per 75 students. Specifically, only 46% of schools met federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requirements for free water availability during lunch period. Schools were considered compliant if at least 1 source of clean, free drinking water was available per 75 students. In addition, the researchers found that 31% of schools offered only bottled water, which had to be purchased, and 24% provided no cafeteria drinking water at all.

Kenney and colleagues also wrote that food services directors incorrectly overestimated the amount of access students had to free drinking water within their schools, with 98% having reported free lunch-time access.

“Poor water access in schools may have consequences for the health of youth and children,” Kenney and colleagues wrote. “Providing free, safe tap water for students to drink at school also has the potential to promote healthy hydration and obviates the need for purchasing bottled water; this could especially impact families with black or Hispanic students, who are more likely to consume bottled water.” – by David Costill

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