California public schools must provide free drinking water

Hannah Oakman4 Jul 2011

In an effort to fight childhood obesity, a new California state law now requires all public schools to provide free, fresh drinking water to students at mealtimes.

In 2010, California lawmakers approved Senate Bill 1413 requiring school districts to offer free, fresh water at mealtimes by 1 July 2011, unless the district approves a resolution saying it cannot comply for fiscal or health and safety reasons.

The requirement to offer free drinking water may seem like an easy one to fulfil, but a 2009 survey by the California Department of Public Health found that about 40% of the 200 responding school districts reported that they didn't provide access to free drinking water during school meals.

Even in schools where safe drinking water is available, the survey found that students don't drink water because the water in fountains or dispensers isn't cold, schools don't have enough water fountains, and the fountains are poorly maintained.

There is a growing research base that shows that increasing water consumption improves student health, weight and academic performance, according to the nonprofit California Food Policy Advocates. The logic behind this law is based around the common sense understanding that drinking more fresh water will result in students drinking fewer fizzy drinks, juices and flavoured milks.

"Some may think a law like this is superfluous, but when they find out 40% of California schools don't offer fresh, free drinking water, they realise it has merit," said Marion Standish, director of community health at The California Endowment, the state's largest health foundation and a national leader in developing childhood obesity prevention strategies.

Source: The California Endowment