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Collaborative 4-H and Nutrition project identifies why teens are not drinking water at school

The Issue

Childhood obesity remains an American epidemic – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every five children ages 6-19 is obese. Overweight and obese children are at increased risk of developing chronic disease, such as heart disease and diabetes, as well as social and psychological problems. The consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB’S) is one factor that contributes to obesity and research shows that substituting zero calorie water in place of SSB’s can help reduce weight gain. In Contra Costa County, 17% of youth ages 12-17 drank one or more soda the previous day. Recognizing a need to create a positive impact, Contra Costa County 4-H and Nutrition Family and Consumer Science (NFCS) Advisors collaborated to educate teens at John Swett High School (JSHS) in the Bay Area, where 55 percent of the teens qualify for free and reduced lunch.

What Has ANR Done?

The 4-H and NFCS Advisors focused on the health benefits of consuming water in place of SSB’s as a strategy to support obesity prevention and long-term health. Promoting water consumption meant first identifying water access and the current beverage consumption practices at JSHS.

Using Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR), we recruited six teens from the school to be our "partners" in the project - utilizing proven 4-H youth development practices of fostering teen leadership, citizenship, and life skills. An environmental scan of JSHS revealed that while there were eight water fountains throughout the school, some did not work properly and some did not have sufficient water flow making access to water a challenge. Recognizing the need for research-based information to address this issue, the teens developed a survey to assess students' beverage consumption habits and access to drinking water at school. They collected and analyzed data from 320 students, a 57 percent response rate.

The Payoff

Student leaders identified barriers and shared benefits of increasing water consumption

The survey data revealed that although 90 percent of students said water was their first choice of beverage and 66.8 percent of students have a reusable water bottle, the average reported daily water consumption was less than the recommended amount, 4.92 cups versus 8 cups. This is because 61.5 percent of the students reported not drinking the water provided at school and instead bring water from home. The top reasons students gave included a perception that the water in school was unsafe, had an undesirable taste, and was inconvenient to access. Armed with this new information, the 4-H teens created an infographic to convey the findings schoolwide, displaying it in the main school hallways and during events, reaching 400 teens. They also shared their findings with the school site council and school board and advocated for water filling stations for their school.

Clientele Testimonial

“Through this program, I have learned the importance of working together as a team, how to gather and analyze data, how to plan events, and facts about water, sugar, and environmental impacts of plastic.” JSHS 4-H teen


Charles Go, 4-H Youth Development Advisor - Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, cggo@ucanr.edu; Marisa Neelon, NFCS Advisor, mqneelon@ucanr.edu