Water Stations Fight Obesity by Curbing San Francisco’s Thirst for Sugary Sodas

Note: This community and research led work was supported by CTSI's Community Engagement and Health Policy program.

UCSF’s Research Helps to Open the Taps for Better Health Across The City’s Neighborhoods via UCSF.edu

When you go to drink out of a water fountain, what you think may come out depends a lot on your background.
For many people, especially in San Francisco, it is clean, pristine drinking water. Others, however, may be less trusting, and they imagine contaminated water or community water stationsomething that may make them or their children sick.
Scientists and community advocates hope that it is something else entirely: an intervention for unhealthy sugar consumption in disadvantaged communities across San Francisco.

To make that a reality, UC San Francisco researchers have partnered with local government agencies on an ongoing project that is installing hydration stations in low-income communities in San Francisco, parts of the city where conditions like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease disproportionately affect minority populations – and where a relatively simple intervention like drinking water instead of soda can have big health benefits. Unlike existing water fountains, the new water stations come with dispensers designed to refill reusable bottles and encourage usage.

Already there are more than a hundred water stations installed in schools and public spaces, and what they reflect is not only the ability to turn research into action, but also the ability to partner with under-resourced communities in San Francisco and in the process, maybe change the way the city thinks about big questions like happiness and human needs.

It Started With a Soda Tax

The health intervention began with the soda tax itself, passed in 2016. Roberto Vargas, MPH, associate director of UCSF’s Clinical & Translational Science Institute (CTSI) Community Engagement & Health Policy program, chaired a group to address healthy eating and active living that zeroed in on sugary drinks as a major health issue for communities in Bayview-Hunters Point, Chinatown, the Mission, and elsewhere. Vargas has done this work as part of an effort to leverage UCSF scientists in support of evidence-based policy and public health approaches, an element of the Translational Science at CTSI. These communities were big consumers of sugary drinks, in part, as research showed, because of those communities’ own biases.

Read full story via UCSF.edu