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Drink Up: Schools Must Provide More Water During Meals

By Jane Meredith Adams, EdSource Today

A student fills a reusable water bottle at a hydration station at Fort Bragg High School. (Jennifer McClendon/Network for a Healthy California)

Hydration stations like this one at Fort Bragg High School are popular with students. (Jennifer McClendon/Network for a Healthy California)

Let them drink water.

That’s the message of a new federal regulation that requires schools to expand free water service for students at meals, beginning this September.

As a drink with zero calories, low cost and near-ubiquitous availability, water would seem an obvious choice for a school beverage, given the epidemic of obesity among California children. But making drinking water available in cafeterias has been a challenge for some schools, despite state and federal laws requiring that they do so at lunch. This new regulation, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for the first time requires free drinking water at breakfast — and is the latest legal prod in the effort to bring water instead of sugary drinks into the mouths of students.

“This regulation is one more push toward raising awareness,” said Karla Hampton, co-author of the 2012 policy brief “Fulfilling the Promise of Free Water in K-12 Schools,” produced by researchers at UCSF and two advocacy groups.

The next step, she acknowledged, is to persuade reluctant students to give tap water a chance. “When it’s not just coming out of a dirty old fountain, when you have ice cubes, water containers and clean water in schools, they like it,” she said.

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