NEW YORK, Jan. 21 (UPI) -- Making water available in school cafeterias may have played a role in decreases in students' BMIs, researchers found when reviewing the effects of a test program in New York.
The decreases in BMI were small but statistically significant, researchers at New York University Langone Medical Center report, but show the potential for reducing obesity by making water more easily available.
The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, also showed a reduction in milk sold at schools with the dispensers.
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Department of Education installed electronically-powered jugs with a push lever, called water jets, in school lunch lines in 40 percent of schools in the city from 2008 to 2013.
According to researchers, schools that had a water jet for at least three months saw a reduction in BMI of 0.025 for boys and 0.022 for girls compared to schools that did not get the dispensers. Schools with water jets also had a 0.9 percent drop in risk of boys being overweight and 0.6 percent decrease for girls.
A previous study by NYU researchers showed water consumption tripled in the first three months schools installed dispensers and milk purchases dropped by about 12 half-pint cartons per student per year.
The water jets cost about $1,000 each and are being installed in all schools in New York City as a result of the study, according to researchers. Future studies of the effort will focus on the full effect of decreased milk consumption, as well as longer-term effects of schools having the water dispensers.
"This study demonstrates that doing something as simple as providing free and readily available water to students may have positive impacts on their overall health, particularly weight management," said Dr. Brian Elbel, an associate professor at NYU Langone Medical Center, in a press release. "Our findings suggest that this relatively low-cost intervention is, in fact, working."