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More Public Drinking Fountains Needed To Address Poor Health Stats

A national survey of public drinking fountains around Aotearoa, recently undertaken by RefillNZ, has shown that, on average, there is only one drinking fountain for every 3,303 people and as few as one fountain for every 17,000 people in the worst-affected area.

“Although a few councils have really good drinking fountain coverage in their communities, it is very inconsistent and it’s becoming a serious public health issue. When we don’t have ready access to free tap water, sugary drinks become the cheapest, most convenient option for people when they’re out and about,” says RefillNZ founder, Jill Ford.

“And this is contributing to our dreadful health statistics. New Zealand is number three for sugar consumption and the third most obese nation in the OECD, which is also a significant risk factor for complications of COVID-19.

Sugary drinks are a contributing factor to weight gain and dental decay. Kiwis consume approximately 73 litres of sugary drink per person, per year. Ford says more drinking fountains could reduce the consumption of sugary drinks and bottled water, reducing both sugar-related health issues and plastic waste.

Sugary drinks particularly affect the health of our tamariki (children). In 2019, the number one reason why Kiwi kids were admitted to hospital was to have their teeth removed under general anesthetic.

The true cost for Kiwi kids and taxpayers

Dr Rob Beaglehole, spokesperson for the NZ Dental Association, says that the number one source of sugar for New Zealanders aged 0-30 years is sugary drinks, leading to a crisis in dental health for tamariki and rangatahi (teenagers).

In 2019, 8,700 tamariki, aged 0-14 years, were admitted to hospital to have their teeth removed under general anaesthetic with thousands more on the waiting list. Children and young people are suffering high levels of pain that impacts on their ability to eat, speak, and sleep, he says.

Each operation costs around $4,000, which is borne by the New Zealand taxpayer.

“One of the worst days in my dental career was when I had to remove 10 teeth in one surgical procedure from an 18 month-old baby, still in nappies,” says Dr Beaglehole. “

With one 600ml sugary drink containing up to 15 teaspoons of sugar – five times the recommended daily intake for a child according to the World Health Organisation – Dr Beaglehole fully supports RefillNZ’s call for better access to public drinking fountains across the country as an important step in supporting Kiwis to drink tap water, rather than sugary drinks.

Jill Ford has been working with councils around the country to add drinking fountain locations to RefillNZ’s online map and mobile app.

Ford says that since completing the survey and sharing the results with local authorities, there has been an encouraging response, with councils looking for advice and support to improve drinking fountain infrastructure.

Porirua community votes for more drinking fountains

In Porirua, the local community has been the driving impetus around recent investment in village drinking fountains by the council. Porirua City Council considers public drinking water fountains an important priority as they encourage the drinking of water, rather than sugary drinks, and help to reduce single-use plastic bottle waste.

“Local communities in Porirua identified a need for accessible water in their communities to reduce the consumption of fizzy drinks,” says Mark Hammond, Parks Operations Manager at Porirua City Council.

As a result, 10 new public water fountains were installed during 2019-20.

“The feedback from the community about the new water fountains has been very positive,” says Mark Hammond. “We focused on placing them in easy to access locations with bold bright signage, so they are easy to spot. They’ve been a real hit.”

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