Tap water instead of sugary drinks needs to be “default option” for children, say councils

Adding fluoride to water supplies can reduce admissions to tooth decay for under-fives by as much as 45%, Public Health England said. Pic: William Warby

Drinking tap water instead of sugar drinks need to be the “default option” for children and young people in order to tackle the alarming rise in child obesity and reduce the risk of diabetes, council leaders have said.

The Local Government Association said children and teenagers get less than a quarter of their recommended fluid intake – around eight glasses – from water.

It is calling for water to be made more freely available in schools, nurseries and children's centres, and for the Government to make hydration in schools part of its Child Obesity Strategy.

Research shows that replacing one sugary drink a day with water can lower the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 25 per cent, while replacing them entirely can eliminate 235 calories.

Water is also said to improve children's concentration in the classroom, with those who drink one litre of water over the course of a school day saw improvements in their short-term memory.

Yet at present, fluid intake is at its lowest in the morning. A recent study found that just 6.1 per cent of children drank water in the morning, compared with 24.4 per cent at lunchtime and 33.5 per cent in the afternoon.

Last autumn, Blackpool Council ran a Stoptober-style campaign where pupils at four schools and colleges were asked to swap fizzy drinks for water for 21 days. Over 80 11 to 18-year-olds took part in the challenge and more than half who switched to water were confident they would remain “fizzy-free”.

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, LGA community wellbeing spokeswoman, said: “Children and teenagers are not drinking enough water. It is far too easy for them to choose a soft drink rather than a glass of water. We need to reverse this and make water more freely available in our schools, nurseries, children's centres and colleges.

“The healthy option should be the default option. We want to take it just as easy for children to choose water as it is to choose a soft drink that is piled high in sugar.

“Swapping sugary drinks for water could make a big difference in helping to tackle major health problems such as obesity, diabetes and tooth decay, as well as improve concentration in the classroom.”