Research shows that the presence of water coolers in schools may lead to a decline in childhood obesity.

Child Getting Water From Water Cooler
Credit: Mypurgatoryyears/Gettty Images

I grew up in South Florida, and one of the things I remember most about the public schools I went to were the water fountains. Some of the faucets were rusty, and the water pressure was often so low that you practically had to wrap your lips around the mouthpiece to quench your thirst. Those fountains didn't exactly encourage thirsty students to get a drink.

But new research shows that there's a good—and surprising—reason to make sure that students have easy access to water at school. In a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers from NYU Langone Medical Center placed inexpensive water coolers in more than 1200 school cafeterias throughout New York City, and found that the presence of these water coolers resulted in a"small but statistically significant drop," in childhood obesity—specifically, a one percent decline in boys and half a percent in girls.

Because of the freely available water, there was also a reduction in students' consumption of half-pints of milk with their lunches, something researchers believe can lead to further weight reduction.

And that's not the only potential benefit: "Research has demonstrated that staying well-hydrated while at school improves children's cognitive performance. Therefore, water access interventions have the potential to improve academic outcomes as well as health outcomes," researchers Lindsey Turner and Erin Hager concluded in a JAMA editorial about the findings.

As a victim of childhood obesity myself, I can't say with certaintly that access to fresh, cold drinking water at school would have curbed my after-school dates with family-sized bags of Doritos, but maybe I wouldn't have consumed as many pints of chocolate milk or gulped down as many sugary Capri Suns as I did. Maybe I would have been, if only ever so slightly, a healthier child.

Zach Verbit, formerly a pudgy prepubescent teen, is now an Editorial Intern at Parents Magazine.