Thursday, December 17, 2009

It's a Water Problem

After spending 3 months thinking and writing about sugar-sweetened beverages, obesity, and school food environments I am a little concerned about the effects of the New York Times' Toxic Waters series and peoples' consumption of water (a great alternative to all those sugary drinks).

The series is exposing the many problems with our nations' water supply (including the dangers hidden in some tap water).

On their homepage today I see:
Tap Water Might be Legal, but Unhealthy (a reported story)
A Struggle Over Water (a slideshow)
What's in Your Water? (an interactive tool that let's you look up your state)

Most of us know how terrible bottled water is the for the environment (see the Food & Water Watch website if you want more on this...), but if we begin to think that our **free** tap water isn't safe to drink, either, what choice do we have? (Note: these problems don't affect everyone's water, so don't panic!)

A Solution?
The solution must be to protect our nation and our cities' water supplies. To fix the sources of contamination (often from industry -- including the ever expanding meat industry with their fecal runoff that pollutes everything it comes into contact with). While law is fundamental to protection, it must be enforced to be effective.

I've seen the water problem first hand. I grew up in a household that used well water and then spring water for our family. It was always tested, and always safe to drink. I lived in DC during the water lead scare in 2004, yet wasn't directly affected. Then I lived in the SF bay area, where the city water is probably one of the best in the country! A couple years ago, I came home to find out that the spring supplying our household water had dried up, and my parents had to dig a well to get more water.

Not everyone can afford to filter their water (or maybe they can...and we need to support this) or live in an area that gets their water supplied by a pristine reservoir hundreds of miles away. Moreover, I expect that poor, disadvantaged areas are more likely to be affected by these water problems than more affluent communities. And, quite honestly, depending on the nature of contamination filtration won't solve the problem.

An Anecdote
Unfortunately, anyone traveling to Latin America has probably seen that in the rural areas a bottle of Coca-Cola is cheaper than water. So what do you think they drink? Probably not the contaminated water, unless they are so poor they can't afford the soda.

Yet, in the US and around the world there is a growing obesity epidemic. The rise in obesity maps freakishly close to the rise in consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (due to cheap production of high fructose corn syrup). The water debate is not just about safety -- its about public health and obesity, too! Now is the time when we need more people, especially kids, to be drinking water over sugary beverages.

It's Impact?
Have you read the series? Has it changed your water drinking habits? What do you think about water in this nation? How should we ensure that all families have access to fresh, clean drinking water?

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