World Water Day, which was March 22, highlighted the importance of access to safe, clean water worldwide. A United Nations-observance held every year, the day raises awareness of a problem throughout the world, including the United States and the State of Louisiana.
During a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened awareness around access to safe water and sanitation as a basic human right, the American Heart Association is hoping Louisiana lawmakers consider legislation that helps put clean drinking water within reach for the state’s students.
House Bill 132, filed by Representative Vincent J. Pierre, D-Lafayette, requires newly constructed public school buildings and those undergoing major renovations to be equipped with water bottle filling stations. Lawmakers will have a chance to hear and vote on the bill during the 2021 Louisiana Regular Legislative Session, which convenes April 12.
“Water access is hugely important for a child’s overall health, but for many Louisiana children, school is the only place where they can depend on a nutritious meal and clean water,” said Pierre. “I can’t think of a better time to focus on basic needs that support overall health and reduce the spread of germs.”
Louisiana is ranked sixth in the nation for the highest rate of obesity among children 10-17. Drinking sufficient amounts of water reduces the likelihood of kids being at an unhealthy weight. Drinking water supports children’s muscles, joints, tissues, and circulatory and digestive systems. In addition to supporting healthy bodies, water positively impacts children’s cognitive performance, particularly their short-term memory. Water bottle filling stations in schools can nearly triple how much water students drink at lunch time.
Amid the pandemic, schools have emphasized washing hands, social distancing, covering coughs, and staying healthy. Meanwhile, in one study, water fountains and manual pencil sharpener handles were determined to be the germiest surfaces in classrooms. Water refill stations have the potential to help reduce the spread of germs.
“By having access to water bottle filling stations, students can fill their water bottles and take them to class,” said Tiffany W. Ardoin, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine at LSU Health Sciences Center and president-elect of the American Heart Association’s Capital Area Board of Directors. “This should be part of creating a healthy school environment that helps set children up for a healthy future.”
According to the American Heart Association, the cost of a water refill station compared to a water fountain is nominal in the process of construction, and can save dollars over time.
“All children, no matter where they live or what grade they are in, deserve to go to a school that provides clean drinking water at no cost,” added Ashley Hebert, Louisiana government relations director for the American Heart Association. “We hope lawmakers can help make carrying water bottles the new normal in public schools.”
The American Heart Association will host its Louisiana Digital Day of Action on April 27, 9 a.m. - 1 p.m., CST. Volunteers and advocates are invited to learn about the Association's policy efforts and engage with lawmakers digitally about the importance of the water access policy. For more information, visit https://act.yourethecure.org/ladayofaction.