Observations of Drinking Water Access in School Food Service Areas Before Implementation of Federal and State School Water Policy, California, 2011

Recent California legislation requires food service areas (FSAs) in school to provide free drinking water to students. This legislation aims to address the contribution of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) to rising obesity rates by ensuring the availability of a healthy alternative.

This study assesses access to water before legislation implementation and student water intake in school FSAs. Data from January to May 2011 was collected from 24 randomly sampled California Bay Area public schools. One administrator per school was interviewed. Researchers observed water access and student intake of free water directly in FSAs. Finally, wellness policies were examined for language about water in FSAs.

Key Findings:

  • Fourteen schools offered free drinking water in FSAs—10 via water fountains. The remaining four schools offered water through sources such as a dispenser offering filtered water or a hydration station.
  • Only four percent of the 11,226 students in daily attendance were observed drinking free water at lunch among schools with free water in FSAs.
  • Of the school administrators interviewed, half had heard about the legislation requiring free water in FSAs. Fourteen of the 24 schools had water in the FSA before implementation of the legislation.

Increasing student water intake in schools will require creative approaches, and require school districts to update their wellness policies to meet the legislated standards..