By Margarita Nahapetyan
Installing water fountains at schools, and teaching children about the health benefits of water, could reduce their risk for getting extra unnecessary pounds, reports a new study that is published in the latest issue of the journal Pediatrics.
The findings are based on a unique intervention in 32 elementary schools in poor areas of two German cities, Dortmund and Essen, during the 2006-2007 academic year. For the study, the researchers, led by Rebecca Muckelbauer, a nutritionist at the Research Institute of Child Nutrition Dortmund in Dortmund, Germany, weighed about 3,000 second and third grade children, and asked them about their beverage consumption.
At the beginning of the school year, the experts had water fountains added to 17 of the schools, and supplied kids with bottles which they had to fill in the morning, before their first class. The scientists also worked with teachers and presented them lesson plans to implement educational programs that promote the benefits of water drinking. In contrast to schools in the United States, there is just very small number of schools in Germany that actually have water fountains, Dr. Muckelbauer explained.
At the beginning of the study, there were no statistical differences in the prevalence of overweight or obese children in the different groups. But by the end of the school year, children in the schools with water fountains, where water consumption was promoted, were 31 per cent less likely to gain extra pounds, compared to kids who went to other schools, where water drinking was not encouraged.
Throughout the school year, children in the schools with fountains, increased their water consumption from about 3 up to 4 cups a day, while those in the other schools continued to drink an average of 3 cups on a daily basis. Over the period of the research, the number of overweight kids upped from 384 to 385 out of 1,641, which is accordingly 23.4 to 23.5 per cent, at the schools with water fountains. To compare, the number of overweight or obese kids at the other schools increased from 339 to 364 out of 1,309, accordingly 25.9 percent to 27.8 per cent, Dr. Muckelbauer said.
The experts cannot not make any final conclusions and explain why the students who were encouraged to drink water were less likely to gain extra weight. Dr. Muckelbauer noted that according to few other studies, drinking of water increases the rate at which calories are burned, while some other research suggested that water may temporarily decrease appetite.
There was insignificant drop in juice consumption in the water group kids, but generally, the research did not find any significant changes in BMI (body mass index) scores or overall consumption of soft drinks. This could be attributed to the fact that the teachers have not been instructed to discourage consumption of soda and juice, as they were told only to encourage the drinking of water. In addition, the study was based on self-reporting by students, and did not evaluate dietary habits of the children, but the experts suspect that the kids who drank more water ate less food.