Encouraging children to drink plain water with school lunches could prevent more than half a million U.S. youths from becoming overweight or obese, and trim the medical costs and indirect societal costs associated with the problem by more than 13 billion U.S. dollars.
According to a study of the University of Illinois (UI), the findings were based on the nationwide expansion of a pilot program conducted in 1,200 elementary and middle schools in New York City between 2009 and 2013. When water dispensers were placed in school cafeterias, students' consumption of water at lunchtime tripled and was associated with small but significant declines in their risks of being overweight one year later.
According to a cost-benefit analysis conducted by UI kinesiology and community health professor Ruopeng An, expanding the program to all public and private schools nationwide would cost a total of about 18 U.S. dollars for the entirety of each student's K-12 years, but could yield an average net benefit to society of 174 dollars across each person's lifetime, or a total of 13 billion U.S. dollars.
"The nutrition profile doesn't change much when people increase their plain-water intake, but we do see a significant drop in their saturated fat and sugar intake," An said.
The study has been published in the journal Pediatric Obesity.