The U.S. is facing an obesity epidemic. Many children and teenagers are considered overweight or obese, which places them at greater risk for a host of health conditions.

Findings of a new study, however, suggest of an easy way for schools to help kids get in better shape. In a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics on Jan. 19, researchers have found that offering water in school cafeterias appears to help kids lose weight.

Study researcher Brian Elbel, from NYU School of Medicine in New York City, and colleagues followed more than 1 million schoolchildren in more than 1,200 schools for a period of five years. The aim of the study was to assess the effects of installing inexpensive water dispensers that provide cold and filtered water on childhood epidemic in New York City, where just less than 40 percent of elementary and middle school students are overweight or obese.

The findings suggest that offering school children fresh water in school links to moderate weight loss as kids are likely to choose zero-calorie water over milk and other drinks packed with ingredients that can make them fat.

The so-called water jets chill and oxygenate water providing students with fresh, cool tap water. While oxygenation does not provide health benefits, it helps improve the taste of the water.

Following installation of these water jets, which costs $1,000 per unit, the researchers observed a decline in student purchases of chocolate milk, which contains 160 calories, and sugary drinks, which typically contain 200 calories per cup.

New York City public schools were no longer allowed to sell sugar sweetened beverages before the study started but students can still buy and bring them from outside. The only sugary drink that students can buy at a school is low-fat chocolate milk.

"Results from this study show an association between a relatively low-cost water availability intervention and decreased student weight. Milk purchases were explored as a potential mechanism," the researchers wrote in their study.

Elbel and colleagues have found that students in schools with water jets tend to be less overweight compared with their counterparts in schools without water jets.

Boys in schools with water jets were 0.9 percent slimmer than boys in schools without water jets. The dispensers were likewise linked to 0.6 percent reduced likelihood of girls of becoming overweight.

"This study demonstrates that doing something as simple as providing free and readily available water to students may have positive impacts on their overall health, particularly weight management," Elbel said. "Our findings suggest that this relatively low-cost intervention is, in fact, working."

Childhood obesity is linked with increased risk for a range of health problems such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer. Figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that obesity affects 17 percent or nearly 13 percent of children and adolescents in the U.S. who are between 2 and 19 years of age.

Physical inactivity and unhealthy diet consist of food and drinks that are high in sugar content are among the factors that are known to contribute to obesity.

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