Water Access in Schools
Providing students with access to safe, free drinking water throughout the school day is one strategy schools can use to create an environment that supports health and learning.
Benefits of Drinking Water
Providing access to drinking water gives students a healthy alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages. It helps to increase students’ overall water consumption, maintain hydration, and reduce energy intake if substituted for sugar-sweetened beverages.1-3 Adequate hydration also may improve cognitive function in children and adolescents.4-8 Drinking water, if fluoridated, also plays a role in preventing dental caries (cavities).
Access to Drinking Water
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and the new "Smart Snacks in Schools" nutrition standards requires schools participating in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) to make free water available to students during meal times where they are served. The standards also require schools in the School Breakfast Program (SBP) to make drinking water available when breakfast is served in the cafeteria.
In addition to the requirements, schools should use a variety of strategies, including—
- Ensuring that water fountains are clean and properly maintained
- Providing access to water fountains, dispensers, and hydration stations throughout the school
- Allowing students to have water bottles in class or to go to the water fountain if they need to drink water
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards and regulations assure that tap water is clean and safe. In rare cases when tap water may not be safe to drink, schools should provide drinking water to students in other ways, including installing filtration systems or purchasing drinking water.
Increasing Access to Drinking Water in Schools
CDC’s tool kit Increasing Access to Drinking Water in Schools [PDF - 150K] provides school health councils, nutrition services providers, principals, teachers, parents, and other school staff with information and tools to:
- Meet free drinking water requirements in NSLP and SBP programs.
- Help make clean, free drinking water readily available throughout multiple points in school settings.
- Promote consumption of water as a healthy beverage.
The easy-to-use tool kit includes background information, needs assessment tools, implementation strategies, and evaluation guidance to provide students with access to drinking water as part of a healthy nutrition environment.
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- Muckelbauer R, Libuda L, Clausen K, Toschke AM, Reinehr T, Kersting M. Promotion and provision of drinking water in schools for overweight prevention: randomized, controlled cluster trial. Pediatrics 2009;123:e661–e667.
- Wang Y C, Ludwig DS, Sonneville K, Gortmaker SL. Impact of change in sweetened caloric beverage consumption on energy intake among children and adolescents. Archieves of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine 2009; 163(4):336–343.
- Popkin BM, D’Anci KE, Rosenberg IH. Water, hydration, and health. Nutrition Reviews 2010;68(8):439–458.
- Kempton MJ, Ettinger U, Foster R, Williams SCR, Calvert GA, Hampshire A, et al. Dehydration affects brain structure and function in healthy adolescents. Human Brain Mapping 2011;32:71–79.
- Edmonds CJ, Jeffes B. Does having a drink help you think? 6-7-year-old children show improvements in cognitive performance from baseline to test after having a drink of water. Appetite 2009;53:469–472.
- Edmonds CJ, Burford D. Should children drink more water? The effects of drinking water on cognition in children. Appetite 2009;52:776–779.
- Benton D, Burgess N. The effect of the consumption of water on the memory and attention of children. Appetite 2009;53:143–146.