As the White House prepares for the first conference on hunger, nutrition and health in more than 50 years, public health officials are pointing out that providing access to safe drinking water should be part of the national conversation. Low-income and minorities in the US are less likely to drink plain water and also have a negative view of tap water, which is associated with consuming sugary drinks. This can lead to health problems ranging from cavities to a higher Body Mass Index and risk factors for diabetes.
Two new studies from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University now suggest that low-income families can get an inexpensive water filter to use at home, increase their water consumption and reduce their consumption of sugary drinks.
“These findings are the first to confirm in an intervention study that providing access to affordable, safe and tasty tap water in the US can significantly reduce the intake of sugary drinks in low-income families,” Uriyoán Colón-Ramos, associate professor at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health and senior author of both papers, said. “We already know that drinking water is good for you, but these findings now suggest that water security is an important factor when considering healthy lifestyle interventions for lower incomes and minorities.”
In the first study, Colón-Ramos and her colleagues studied 92 parents of infants/toddlers enrolled in Early Head Start programs serving primarily Hispanic, low-income communities in the Washington DC metro area. The team found that when given a water filter, even without other interventions, families were more likely to start drinking more water and significantly reduced their consumption of sugary drinks. Families who received a water filter plus a 12-week educational and motivational intervention to replace sugary drinks and fruit juice with filtered tap water also significantly reduced their intake of sugary drinks and their consumption of fruit juice.
In the second study, Colón-Ramos and her colleagues focused on explaining how the inexpensive water filter pitcher helped parents reduce their consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and increase their water intake. The team conducted in-depth interviews and found that using the water filter improved the taste of tap water and improved parents’ perceptions of water safety. With safe and tasty drinking water in the house, parents didn’t feel like buying bottled water and rationing water consumption like before. The increase in water consumption replaced the intake of other drinks, such as sugary drinks, fruit juice and sports drinks.
“We already knew that drinking water is good for you. The United Nations says that access to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water is a fundamental human right. What we did not know is that when that human right is violated or when access inconsistent, which can happen and is happening in communities across the US, it can significantly contribute to individuals choosing to drink sugary drinks.” Colon-Ramos explained.
“This research shows that nutritional status and feeding behavior can significantly improve family health habits — and these early-life nutritional practices can have a profound lifelong impact on children,” William Dietz, president of the Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness, which helped fund the studies. “Public health practitioners are always looking for affordable and accessible interventions to improve health outcomes, and these studies provide us with insights that can be applied more broadly to reduce sugary drink intake.”
George Washington University