Serving Water With School Lunches Can Stem Obesity

Banning sodas and sweet drinks in school lunches can prevent a pandemic of epic proportions in U.S. schools. New research instead suggests that school canteens serve water instead of sweetened beverages not only to prevent obesity but also help avoid straining the country’s coffers, which have been wasted on medical costs on overweight-related diseases.

The new study actually was a continuation of the study conducted between 2009 and 2013 of 1,200 school kids in the elementary and middle-school levels in New York. In that research, they found that just the matter of putting water dispensers in conspicuous areas in the school canteen tripled the consumption of water by the children. The consumption of water immediately cut the danger of obesity. One in five youths from six years old to 19 years old is dealing with obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Genes and environment are the two main factors that cause obesity. Some people are cursed with slow metabolism which makes it difficult for them to convert food into energy. The other factors include sleeping habits, diet, and lack of physical activity. These children are vulnerable to developing cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, cancer, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, and breathing problems. Psychologically, they also suffer from low self-esteem and depression.

The Study

The University of Illinois conducted a cost-benefit analysis of replacing sweetened beverages with water. Dr. Ruopeng, the community health professor at the university, said that with an investment of just $18 for each student in the K-12 program, it could yield a benefit of $174 that will last that student’s entire life. Based on their study, there’s no correlation between the nutrition of the school kids and the number of glasses of water they drink, “but we do see a significant drop in their saturated fat and sugar intake.”

Boys are likely to benefit from this program more because of the greater reduction in the obesity risk of the male population compared to their female counterparts. In terms of the benefit, an $18 investment in K-12 boys will yield $199 against the $149 for girls.

The link between school lunches and childhood obesity is not new. Back in 2011, a study entitled “Health Status And Behavior Among Middle-School Children In A Midwest Community: What are the underpinnings of childhood obesity?” recommended an overhaul of the menu served at school lunches because 15% of the more than 1,000 sixth-graders in the research were obese.

Research by the Institute of Medicine found that schools in America were no better than the fast food chains that are notorious for their fattening and unhealthy food. As a result, fewer children are eating vegetables and fruits. The study, in fact, led former First Lady Michelle Obama to launch a campaign to improve school lunches. Two years later, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was signed into a federal law by President Barack Obama. The law was criticized for putting an undue burden on schools to meet the stringent nutritional requirements or face sanction.

In May of last year, the Trump administration relaxed some of the provisions because, as Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said “If kids aren’t eating the food, and it’s ending up in the trash, they aren’t getting any nutrition.”

New Sensor Technology For Making Water Safe

New technology developed by Sandia National Laboratories will allow water utilities to test drinking water for disinfection byproducts cheaply and quickly. The new tool combines a surface acoustic wave sensor (SAW) with a special form of carbon (nanoporous), and it could potentially be used to detect many contaminants in the water and air.

Until recently, water utilities had few options for testing drinking water. The chlorine that is added to water to eliminate dangerous bacteria must itself be kept to a low enough level to avoid contaminating water with dangerous disinfection byproducts such as trihalomethanes. The test of water supplies is often done at labs qualified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but this process requires several weeks. The only alternatives are expensive: hire a highly-trained chemist to perform the tests to EPA standards or invest in a mass spectrometer system.

Analyzing Water

However, a new and affordable option has emerged: Sandia National Laboratories, working with Parker Hannifin, has developed a table-top tool that quickly and cheaply detects common disinfection byproducts in water. Parker Hannifin has released an online version of the analyzer that can monitor trihalomethane levels every hour.

The device began its life in 2002 as analytical chemist Curtis Mowry’s idea for a sensor to detect industrial waste in water. Collaborating with an engineer from Parker Hannifin in 2006, Mowry finally saw his brainchild appear in 2011 as the Trihalomethane Water Analyzer. Today, Parker Hannifin leads all other companies in the number of trihalomethane analyzers used in North America.

With initial and follow-up work funded by Sandia’s laboratory-directed research and development program, a team of scientists created this device by marrying microsensor technology with cutting-edge research on a special form of carbon called nanoporous carbon. Mowry explained how the sensor works: a surface acoustic wave sensor (SAW) vibrates a wave along a sheet of quartz. Changes in the wave indicate how many chemicals have adhered to the quartz.

Nanoporous Carbon Technology

The downside to such sensors is that quartz is not a sensitive enough substance to collect enough chemicals for accurate readings. Researchers found a way around this problem by coating the quartz with nanoporous carbon. This form of carbon consists of nanofragments of graphene sheets, which trap greater amounts of chemicals. Sandia materials scientist Mike Siegal commented that this carbon coating “turned out to be a thousand times better than any organic coating that Sandia, or anyone else, had ever studied to adsorb volatile chemicals.”

In addition to using this innovative coating on the quartz, the developing team used an older and larger version of SAW technology, which made it easier to apply the carbon coating and produced more sensitive quartz, greatly increasing the efficiency of the device.

On top of testing water to improve public health, the analyzer has other exciting potential uses, including testing for contaminants in the air – even chemical weapons. However, perhaps even more promising are the possible applications of nanoporous carbon technology. Siegel and other Sandia scientists have been exploring how to apply this carbon to battery anodes to produce higher density batteries. These batteries could extend the life of cellphones, power electric cars more efficiently, and have many future technological ramifications.