School Water Campaign for Continence

9th July 2010

During the warm days of the summer, many of us will be drinking more water and other drinks to quench our thirst and to cool us down. In our offices, most of us take it for granted that we can go and get a drink when we want one.

What about our children? Before the launch of the national Water is Cool in School campaign, the situation in most schools was very poor. While most staff had access to water and other drinks in staffrooms, including in some cases chilled water from water coolers, similar facilities and opportunities to drink were lacking for children and young people in school. Many school buildings, built years ago, provided little access to drinking water – the only source was often a tap with no cups or an old-fashioned drinking fountain, sometimes serving hundreds of pupils, in the playground or in the toilets - an unhygienic and inappropriate site. 10% of schools offered no access to water at all.

Water is Cool in School campaign

The Water is Cool in School campaign was launched in 2000 by the national children’s charity ERIC (Education and Resources for Improving Childhood Continence). It was set up after years of requests by school nurses and paediatric continence advisors who were concerned that inadequate fluid intake was exacerbating or even causing the childhood continence problems of bedwetting, daytime wetting and soiling, as well as urinary infections and constipation. Contrary to widespread belief there is a link between not drinking enough during the day and continence problems and clinical practice shows that withholding drinks in the evening does not help. There was also concern about the risk of children becoming dehydrated, particularly during active playtimes and PE as well as during the afternoons. Common sense tells us that a hot classroom in summer or a stuffy classroom in winter, coupled with thirst, is not conducive to willingness to work and effective concentration.

To encourage children and young people to drink water we need to make drinking water a pleasant experience rather than one to be endured or avoided. Largely due to the Water is Cool in School campaign and Government initiatives it encouraged, the majority of schools have improved their drinking water, some installing plumbed-in chilled water coolers and allowing water bottles on desks so that children have access and autonomy. Before the campaign such facilities were virtually unheard of for pupils, but by as early as 2003 a large survey of schools found that 78% of schools at primary level allowed personal water bottles in the classroom.

Drinking regularly throughout the day is vital not only for healthy bladders and bowels, but also for general health and wellbeing. There are a number of factors that influence how much water students drink in school. A key one is the standard of the facilities and the quality of the water. Children are much less likely to drink enough water if their access to it is in any way restricted – or if the conditions are unappealing. And if parents understand the importance of drinking water and are good role models, pupils see the benefits of drinking water both at school and at home.

The link with school toilets

What goes in must also come out. A major barrier to drinking is school toilets if they are dirty, smelly, lack privacy, attract anti-social behaviour and lack basic facilities – such as toilet paper, soap and hand drying facilities. It quickly became evident that many pupils avoid drinking in order to avoid using the school toilets, or because they are not allowed to go to the toilet when they need to - and that toilet avoidance and restrictions cause the same health problems, including incontinence, as those caused by dehydration. It was therefore crucial to address the issue of pupils’ toilets too and the Bog Standard campaign was launched in 2004 with a coalition of organisations, led by ERIC.

ERIC’s top tips for parents to encourage healthy drinks from an early age:

  • Set a good example by drinking water daily – and in front of your child
  • In summer to make water more palatable chill water in the fridge in large bottles or covered jugs
  • Add ice cubes – fun shaped cubes or chopped fruit in the cubes
  • Add slices of oranges or lemons
  • Serve a jug of water with meals
  • Let your children choose a fun drinking water bottle that they take when out and about and on car journeys
  • Provide a clean water bottle for your child to take to school each day and only fill it with plain water (chilled or partially frozen in summer).
  • If your school doesn’t provide palatable and chilled sources for refilling bottles, encourage the PTA to raise funds for this
  • Make fruit juice spritzers by mixing half 100% juice with half sparkling water
  • Freeze your own ice lollies made from 100% fruit juice
  • Fruit and vegetables contain lots of water and valuable nutrients so include them in your child’s lunch box and for snacks at school and at home
  • In winter, it can be more difficult to keep up an adequate intake of fluids if only cold drinks are made available; offer your child hot drinks and soup, as well as water and their favourite fruit juices
  • Limit juices, squashes and cordials to once or twice a day - sweet and acidic drinks (including sugar-free) are harmful to teeth, the more frequently they are drunk, the greater the harm to teeth.
  • For a hot drink, try Rooibosch (Redbush) tea, naturally caffeine-free, low in tannin but high in anti-oxidants, popular with children, and available from supermarkets and health food shops
  • Give your child some water to have next to their bed at night
  • When children have a cold, the flu, or any illness, keep fresh water by them and encourage them to drink throughout the day
  • Some children will drink willingly when drinks are available, while others will need constant encouragement

ERIC is the only national children’s charity dedicated to supporting children, young people and their families. ERIC offers practical ideas, information and resources to help manage or overcome the difficulties associated with bedwetting. ERIC’s confidential Helpline is available Monday to Friday 10am – 4pm on 0845 370 8008, an information text messaging service +44 7624 811 636 is also available. For more information visit www.eric.org.uk

For more information on ERIC’s school campaigns with practical information and resources visit www.wateriscoolinschool.org.uk and www.bog-standard.org


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