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Dehydration Inequities Spur Efforts to Improve Water Quality in Schools

Dehydration Inequities Spur Efforts to Improve Water Quality in Schools

This week, Southern California Public Radio (SCPR) had a terrific report on student hydration in California. The story highlighted one of the state’s more distressing inequities – the lack of access to and consumption of clean drinking water.

The report focuses primarily on schools in Los Angeles, but does reference a national study that found that more than half of all children and adolescents in the U.S. experience chronic dehydration. While rates are high across all races and ethnicities, they are particularly high among African Americans and Latinos. This is especially evident in LA’s public schools, where a majority of students are from communities of color.

The article has some good quotes from health advocates, including our friends at California Food Policy Advocates, on the challenges of increasing access to and consumption of clean water.

"When you look at water it’s zero calories but yet you need it to survive and to live a fruitful life," says Hector Gutierrez, a nutrition policy analyst who works on water access for the California Food Policy Advocates. "So we are trying to change the paradigm and make water the beverage of choice."

Experts say school is a natural target for efforts to make water more attractive, since kids spend so much of their time there. But there's a lot of work to do...

“A lot of these schools [in California] are very old and have old infrastructure," says Gutierrez. "The water might be hot, or the drinking fountain might be kind of decrepit."

You should definitely read the whole article to find out some of the efforts being done to improve the quality of drinking fountains in LA public schools. The Health Academy program, run by the National Health Foundation, is an interesting approach that involves students in efforts to increase access to healthy foods and create healthier environments.

Access to clean drinking water in schools is particularly important given the extreme environmental conditions impacting the state. California’s historic drought has put added strain on the drinking water systems, especially in low-income areas and regions with larger populations of communities of color. The state has already dedicated resources to address regions, like the Central Valley, that are especially vulnerable to drinking water shortages due to the drought. However, it is still important that we, as health advocates, monitor the quality and availability of drinking water in low-income areas. If clean water isn’t accessible, then we can expect to see higher rates of chronic dehydration, which, as it states in the SCPR report can lead to “health problems that include fatigue, joint pain, cognitive and emotional problems, and digestive disorders.”

Access to healthy food options and clean drinking water are some of CPEHN’s priorities as part of our “health in all policies” approach. It is exciting to know that schools in LA are making the connection between student water consumption and health. It is one step closer to making sure the healthy choice is the easiest choice in the places where we live, learn, work, and play.

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