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Provide more water fountains at playgrounds, say researchers

Provide more water fountains at playgrounds, say researchers

A new study from the University of Otago, Wellington, has found that only six per cent of Wellington City children’s playgrounds have drinking water fountains.

The study looked at all 47 of the publicly accessible Wellington City Council drinking fountains, and identified multiple problems with the fountains, such as discolouration from algae or metal degradation in almost half (47 per cent) the fountain nozzles.

One of the researchers, Professor Nick Wilson from the Department of Public Health, says that providing better drinking fountains at playgrounds and parks would help encourage children to drink water rather than sugary drinks – a cause of rotten teeth and a factor in New Zealand’s obesity problem.

“For example, the large suburb of Karori, which has many parks, has only one drinking fountain in a park. The only other two public fountains in all of Karori were near a shopping centre and in a cemetery,” he says.

“As sugary drinks are often very cheap and are marketed at children we need alternatives such as good access to well-designed and maintained drinking fountains in public places” he says.

“But it is also important to address quality issues, as people are likely to be put off drinking fountains with algae growth near the nozzle.”

Another of the authors, Associate Professor George Thomson, pointed out that if fountains were widely available, they could also support outdoor activity such as walking and jogging, especially in summer.

“Positive findings from this study were that all 74 of the nozzles and taps delivered water, almost half of the 47 fountains had taps for filling bottles, and seven even had bowls to enable dogs to drink. Such bowls can have an indirect benefit to population health, by supporting the walking of dogs by the owners.

“With the increased risk of heat waves with climate change, city drinking fountains can also be a way to reduce the risk of heat stroke during summer,” Thomson says.

“In other research outside Wellington, we have found a worse level of drinking fountains in some other local government areas – including fountains that didn’t work or had grass growing out of the internal parts,” says Thomson.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Australian New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

Wilson N, Signal L. Thomson G. Surveying all public drinking water fountains in a city: Outdoor field observations and Google Street View Aust N Z J Public Health, 2017. Full free text: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1753-6405.12730/full . Note: the Supporting Information file at the end has photos of problematic fountains.

For a map of the location of the drinking fountains in the study see: http://wellington.govt.nz/services/environment-and-waste/water/wellingtons-water-supply/drinking-fountains

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