Increasing access to drinking water in schools
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  • Description:
    Drinking water can contribute to good health, and schools are in a unique position to promote healthy, dietary behaviors, including drinking water. More than 95% of children and adolescents are enrolled in schools, and students typically spend at least 6 hours at school each day. Ensuring that students have access to safe, free drinking water throughout the school environment gives them a healthy alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages before, during, and after school. Access to safe, free drinking water helps to increase students’ overall water consumption, maintain hydration, and reduce energy intake, if substituted for sugar-sweetened beverages. In addition, adequate hydration may improve cognitive function among children and adolescents, which is important for learning. Drinking water, if fluoridated, also plays a role in preventing dental caries (cavities).

    The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires that schools participating in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) make plain (i.e., no flavoring, additives, or carbonation) drinking water available to students at no cost during the lunch meal periods at the locations where meals are served. Schools must also make drinking water available during the School Breakfast Program (SBP), when breakfast is served in the cafeteria. Schools that participate in the Afterschool Snack Program are encouraged to provide drinking water when snacks are served. Water is not considered part of the reimbursable meal, and there is no separate funding for providing drinking water. Funds from the nonprofit food service account may be used to pay for some costs of providing the water, including cups and pitchers. The USDA has issued guidance on this requirement, including information on determining allowable costs. Schools can consult their state education or agriculture agencies with additional questions about meeting these requirements. States, school districts, and individual schools may have additional policies and regulations requiring drinking water in schools.

    In addition to federal requirements for providing students with access to drinking water, there are other recommendations related to water access in schools. The Institute of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that plain drinking water be available throughout the school day at no cost to students, and if other beverages are available or sold during the school day, they should only include plain water (i.e., no flavoring, additives, or carbonation), fat-free or low-fat milk, and 100% fruit juice in specified portions. Similar recommendations are promoted in several voluntary school recognition programs, including the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program and USDA’s Healthier US School Challenge (HUSSC). The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also recommends the following: (a) Children and adolescents should be taught to drink water routinely as an initial beverage of choice as long as daily dietary caloric and other nutrient (e.g., calcium, vitamins) needs are being met; (b) Water is also generally the appropriate first choice for hydration before, during, and after most exercise regimens, and (c) Children should have free access to water, particularly during school hours.

    Suggested citation: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Increasing Access to Drinking Water in Schools. Atlanta GA: US Dept. of Health and Human Services; 2014.


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