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Water only

Water only

I was chatting the other day to a group of teens, all of whom were taking part in the Monty Beetham Steps for Life programme.

I told them that when I was a kid, sugary drinks were actually a huge treat. Fizzy drink was something we never had at home; it was for parties or going out. Orange juice, even, was rare; it used to be delivered sometimes by the milkman with the milk (they looked at me blankly then too. Don’t you miss the milkman?)

Anyway, the point is that it has not taken very long at all for sugary drinks and fizzy drinks to become a daily part of the diet for many young people. And this is a real problem, as we know.

Earlier this year the ministries of education and health teamed up to encourage schools to banish the sugary drinks and go water-only. This is a very positive move; in line with the WHO’s recommendations to combat childhood obesity by creating healthy school environments.

While we might think it a no-brainer not to sell sugary and soft drinks in schools, it hasn’t been (and still isn’t) required, and there can be a surprising amount of resistance to change. So giving schools support to implement this change is a really good idea.

But there are still lots of occasions outside school activities where sugary drinks – think sports drinks, iced tea and energy drinks as well as fizzy – are part of the landscape. School events like sports days and gala days are examples. So I was delighted to be contacted this week by Anna Ferguson, a dentist working for a Wellington-based charitable trust called Healthy Futures.

Healthy Futures was established in 2013 by a group of passionate health professionals, all concerned at the increase of obesity and the related health problems in communities, particularly type 2 diabetes in children. Their vision is “for all New Zealand children to live in an environment that enables and supports healthy eating and physical activity”.

To that end they’ve come up with something simple and brilliant to encourage the drinking of water only. They’ve created a ‘water kit’ which is loaned out to schools and sports groups to use at their events. It’s basically three 10-litre water dispensers, with taps and stands, and a guide for setting up a water stall. The water dispensers can have fruit and herbs added to them, to add a little flavor to the water; Anna tells me they’ve been using some ideas from last summer’s issues of Healthy Food Guide for these! Water is offered free to kids and parents and they’ve even had compostable cups to do double duty as raffle tickets.

As you can see from the photos, water presented this way is appealing and interesting, and kids love it. A parent’s comment from one of the water kit events says it all:

“It was great that there was a variety of waters on offer. Because kids weren’t told it was a healthy ‘alternative’ to the fizzy cans that would usually be provided…it normalised water being served and that it can be tasty and fun!”

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best, and this is a great example of that. Let’s see this trend really take off this summer.


First published: Sep 2016

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