The study, which was conducted in New York City’s public elementary and middle schools, found that installing large “water jets” (electrically cooled, large clear jugs with a push lever for fast dispensing) in cafeterias was associated with a small but significant average weight loss among students.
“Water jets could be an important part of the toolkit for obesity reduction techniques at the school setting,” the study’s authors conclude.
Obesity in children is a major public health issue in the United States. Nationwide, about 17 percent of children aged 2 through 19 — about 12.7 million children in all — are obese, according to the latest estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Being obese puts young people at increased risk of having high blood pressure, bone and joint problems, and sleep apnea, as well as psychological problems such as depression and low self-esteem.
Young people who are obese are also more likely to develop heart disease, type 2 diabetes, several types of cancer, osteoarthritis and other chronic health problems when they become adults.
The researchers decided to conduct this study after they learned that New York’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Department of Education were going to increase access to drinking water at lunchtime by placing “water jets” in school cafeterias.
Water jets dispense a fast stream of water. Health officials and educators hoped the devices, which cost about $1,000 each, would encourage students to drink water rather than sugar-sweetened beverages during lunch. (High-calorie, non-milk beverages had already been banned from school vending machines.)
Between the school years 2008-2009 and 2012-2013 — the period of the current study — about 40 percent of the city’s 1,227 elementary and middle schools received the water jets, and 60 percent did not.