Something in the Water

Categories: Obesity prevention, Oral health, Public Health, Water

August 18, 2015 — By Emily Rozema

A recent article by the Washington Post stated “We don’t trust public fountains anymore. And it’s making us poorer, less healthy and less green.” Over the past few decades, water fountains have gone out of style. There are fewer of them in public places, and the ones that exist are poorly maintained, causing us to perceive water fountains as unappealing, unclean, or unsafe. While this is an issue nationwide, it has recently been brought to my attention there is a particular need for upgraded facilities in LAUSD. Research from 2014 shows that 30% of LAUSD middle school students surveyed were “unlikely” or “extremely unlikely” to drink from their school fountains. Several representatives from The L.A. Trust’s Youth Advisory Board attested to this during our joint board meeting in July when they expressed the need for hydration stations to replace their old, traditional water fountains.

Considering that the alternatives to fountain water are bottled water and sugary drinks, leaving this issue unaddressed is counterproductive to nearly everything we aim to do at The L.A. Trust. First, studies have shown that the more water one drinks, the fewer sugar-sweetened beverages they drink, and that simply increasing water intake can reduce the risk of overweight. Water therefore plays a key role in combatting the obesity epidemic. Second, tap water contains fluoride (which bottled water does not), an essential tool for preventing dental caries in children. Thus, tap water is also an oral health ally. Third, the use of plastic water bottles has 100 times the environmental impact as drinking tap water from a reusable water bottle, making tap water an integral aspect to environmental sustainability. And finally, bottled water is not free, and the perceived need for it is financially burdensome; especially for low-income families. So, like many public health topics, this is not just a physical health issue but a social justice problem as well.

So it is our job to bring water into every strategy and conversation, to challenge ourselves to set the example of drinking more water and breaking the habit of buying bottled water, to advocate for new fountains and hydration stations in our workplaces, parks, communities, and—most importantly—in schools. By doing this, we can save money, calories, teeth, and even lives. The solution is simple—just add water.

emilyEmily Rozema is a 2nd year Master of Public Health Student in the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health’s Community Health Sciences department. Her academic and professional interests include sexual/reproductive health as well as health education. This summer, Emily is developing several obesity prevention resources for wellness centers and drafting a public records request about utilization of sexual health services in wellness centers.

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