Drinking water: the answer to childhood obesity?

water-in-a-glassGerman researchers may have found a way to control obesity in children. And the solution is simple and cheap – drinking water. The consumption of soda and other sugar- and calorie-rich drinks has been linked to the problem of childhood obesity, despite the development of “sugar-free” and “light” versions of these drinks.

German researchers tried an intervention in 32 grade schools in 2 German cities wherein they installed additional water fountains, and distributing free water bottles in the classroom. Couple to this, teaching the health benefits of water was incorporate in the school curriculum.

The study tested whether a combined environmental and educational intervention solely promoting water consumption was effective in preventing overweight among children in elementary school.

The researchers monitored changes in body mass index (BMI), and beverage consumption (in glasses per day; 1 glass is equicalent to 200 mL) before and after the intervention. The water fountains were also fitted with a meter that measured water consumption during the study period of 1 year. Schools with no interventions were used as control group.

The study results can be summarized as follows:

  • The risk of being overweight was reduced significantly (31%) in children going to schools with water intervention compared to children in “control” schools.
  • Water consumption in the interventions schools hiked up to 1.1 glasses more per child per day compared to the control group.
  • Juice consumption was slightly down in the intervention group.

The purpose of the study was not to make children lose weight, as what many people may associate with the so-called water diet. Children need to gain weight as they grow. Rather, the aim is to find ways and means to slow weight gain proportional to growth rate and height, e.g. maintaining a normal body mass index. The study results have been published in the journal Pediatrics and the authors have concluded:

Our environmental and educational, school-based intervention proved to be effective in the prevention of overweight among children in elementary school, even in a population from socially deprived areas.

Previous studies have shown that interventions in school such as restriction of junk food and increased nutritional education have also proven to be effective in managing childhood obesity, at least during the study period. It is however, unclear, how sustainable these effects are once the study is over.

What is clear is the fact that interventions to prevent childhood obesity are necessary and that they shouldn’t be confined only to one environment because the home as well as the school environment play a very important role in a child’s health outcomes.

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