The American public is finally starting to recognize the connection between sugary drinks and obesity, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is helping schools and community organizations get water into schools, and soda and sugary drinks out.
This year, Washington State considered legislation to fund water stations in schools throughout the state, but the legislation was not passed. Advocates are not going away, though, and will be back and ready for round two next year.
These advocates would do well to arm themselves with data from the RWJF's massive 2014 report, titled "The State of Obesity: Better Health Policies for a Healthier America," where the foundation documents in careful detail all the ways that our corporate-sponsored food environment is turning us into unhealthy people.
The report states that children who reduced their consumption of added sugar by the equivalent of one can of soda per day had improved glucose and insulin levels. While this is certainly no magic bullet to solving our national obesity crisis, it is at least a place to start.
In Washington State, YMCA facilities are removing soda machines and replacing them with “hydration stations.” These machines are three times faster than a standard drinking fountain and work using sensors. Students can place their bottles on the station and water starts to flow automatically. To add to the fun, the stations track how many plastic water bottles are saved by refilling reusable bottles.
Money from RWJF brought together a diverse coalition of community stakeholders in children’s health including the Seattle Children’s Hospital, the Governor’s office, the state Department of Agriculture, the Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition, and the American Heart Association.
All stakeholders agreed that hydration stations in schools and YMCAs would be the most effective way to spend the money. They also targeted schools in need—those with high percentages of students receiving free lunches. They chose the Michael T. Simmons Elementary School as one of the first schools targeted for installation of the hydration stations. In total, 32 water stations will be installed in schools and Y's throughout the state.
Advocates requested more money from the state legislature to fund the installations in all public schools, but it was a no-go for the 2014 session. The bill will be back in 2015, however. It has a legislative champion in Rep. Monica Stonier and state advocates have formed a Statewide Healthy Beverage Workgroup to develop further support.