In 2009, Washington University in St. Louis became the first major university to ban the sale of bottled water in an effort to reduce plastic waste. Other schools, like the University of Vermont, soon followed suit. But a recent study at the University of Vermont showed that the ban on bottled water led to an increase in the sale of other bottled beverages, such as juice and soda, which are high in sugar content.
The mechanisms underlying obesity are complex, and many are still unknown. Though no direct link has been established, a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the 135 percent increase in the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages between 1977 and 2001 has played a role in increasing obesity in the United States. A study at Yale have also showed an association between the consumption of sugary beverages and increased body weight and risk of diabetes.
Considering the health risks associated with consuming sugary drinks, should WUSTL students be concerned about our school’s ban on bottled water?
Director of University Nutrition Connie Diekman says there’s little cause for alarm. The way the bottled-water ban was carried out at WUSTL differs significantly from the University of Vermont’s approach.
“We have … [focused] on the availability of the water fountain,” says Diekman. “We took [water] out of its vehicle, the plastic bottle, but we didn’t eliminate it as an option.”
Diekman added that the beverage sales data provided by WashU’s drink vendors back up this assertion. WUSTL often boasts of its 40 percent reduction in total plastic bottle waste since the ban’s inception, but the sale of bottled beverages other than water has also dropped – 34 percent since 2008.
The numbers appear positive, but some students aren’t convinced that the ban isn’t affecting beverage choices. Sophomore Advaita Kanakamedala says that the ban is “encouraging people to drink more unhealthy drinks,” which are still sold in plastic bottles.
Diekman acknowledges that the double standard is a “tricky question.” She stresses the importance of awareness, saying that we “[must] continue to educate our campus community about … hydration without added calories.” However, Diekman concedes that such education has been “sporadic.”
The education efforts may have missed freshman Tyler Satchel Orden, who was surprised to hear that there was a bottled water ban at all. “I have my own bottled water, so I drink that,” he said.
Paws ‘N’ Go cashier Deidre Williams says she believes that the ban has had a positive effect. “It’s not necessarily a bad thing because they do offer water bottles and filtered water,” she said, “and … buying bottled water with your meal points, it’s kind of a waste.”
Williams also said she thinks the school is still providing healthy beverage options. “The majority of the drinks we have are supposed to be better for you … It’s not bad but it’s a little less healthy,” she said.
“We do have a lot of soda here,” added fellow cashier Guadalupe Rodriguez. “But if you guys ever need water, we’re always here to give you some.”