Introduction: Recent legislation requires schools to provide free drinking water in food service areas (FSAs). Our objective was to describe access to water at baseline and student water intake in school FSAs and to examine barriers to and strategies for implementation of drinking water requirements.
Methods: We randomly sampled 24 California Bay Area public schools. We interviewed 1 administrator per school to assess knowledge of water legislation and barriers to and ideas for policy implementation. We observed water access and students' intake of free water in school FSAs. Wellness policies were examined for language about water in FSAs.
Results: Fourteen of 24 schools offered free water in FSAs; 10 offered water via fountains, and 4 provided water through a nonfountain source. Four percent of students drank free water at lunch; intake at elementary schools (11%) was higher than at middle or junior high schools (6%) and high schools (1%). In secondary schools when water was provided by a nonfountain source, the percentage of students who drank free water doubled. Barriers to implementation of water requirements included lack of knowledge of legislation, cost, and other pressing academic concerns. No wellness policies included language about water in FSAs.
Conclusion: Approximately half of schools offered free water in FSAs before implementation of drinking water requirements, and most met requirements through a fountain. Only 1 in 25 students drank free water in FSAs. Although schools can meet regulations through installation of fountains, more appealing water delivery systems may be necessary to increase students' water intake at mealtimes.