Making water available to school children at lunch may save $13B in health costs

An analysis of a pilot program in New York City suggests an investment of about $18 per student could save billions, and set children on a more healthy path for life.
By Ed Adamczyk  |  Updated Nov. 7, 2017 at 4:07 PM
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Nov. 7 (UPI) -- A new analysis of data at the University of Illinois suggests that encouraging children to drink water with every meal could prevent child obesity.

The conclusions of Dr. Ruopeng An, a professor of kinesiology and community health at Illinois, are based on a proposed nationwide expansion of a pilot program in more than 1,200 New York City elementary and middle schools.

Water dispensers placed in school cafeterias tripled students' consumption of water at lunchtime, researchers reported in 2016, suggesting the availability of water lessened intake of food, which was associated with small but significant declines in students' risks of being overweight one year later.

A reduction in the number of overweight or obese children, carrying their extra weight into maturity, would result in fewer health problems and decreased costs of medical care, in addition to indirect costs of lowered productivity and absenteeism.

An's cost-benefit study, published in the journal Pediatric Obesity, projects that expanding the program to all elementary and secondary school students in the United States would cost about $18 per student but yield a benefit of about $174 per student -- or a total of $13 billion.

In adults, being overweight is associated with increased annual medical costs of $350, which increases to $1,500 annually if a person is obese, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted. And in a prior study involving adults, An found that additional water intake had some effect on health.

"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 in a press release.

"While there might potentially be some problems if children consume less whole milk, I would say those are probably minor in comparison with the costs associated with the skyrocketing rates of childhood overweight and obesity in the U.S."

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