Disparities in bottled water use, beliefs could have health consequences for children

June 17, 2011

A cross-sectional survey found that African American and Latino parents are more likely than non-Latino whites to give their children bottled water, largely because of differences in beliefs and perceptions about drinking water.

A cross-sectional survey found that African American and Latino parents are more likely than non-Latino whites to give their children bottled water, largely because of differences in beliefs and perceptions about drinking water.

Increasing use of bottled water has raised concerns about its environmental and health effects (eg, lack of fluoride, bacterial contamination), and disproportionate use of bottled water by poor and minority families may contribute to health disparities. Health care providers can influence choices about water use by providing information on water safety and health effects during maintenance visits.

A total of 632 parents of children treated in pediatric emergency departments completed a questionnaire in English or Spanish regarding their use and beliefs about bottled and tap water and their sources of information. The study population was roughly equally composed of African Americans, Latinos, and non-Latino whites.

Overall, 44.8% of parents said that their children drank only or primarily bottled water. African American and Latino parents were 3 times as likely as non-Latino whites (24% vs 8%) to give their children bottled water exclusively.

Use of bottled water was most strongly associated with beliefs that it was safer, cleaner, better tasting, or more convenient. The researchers note, however, that there is little evidence that in the United States there is any actual health benefit of bottled water over tap water.

They also point out that spending money on bottled water may mean that less is available to spend on other health needs. In the survey, 12% of African Americans and 14% of Latinos compared with 6% of non-Latino whites reported giving up other things to buy bottled water.

Interventions to reduce bottled water use by minorities should be based on knowledge of the factors related to water use in these communities, the researchers advise.

Gorelick MH, Gould L, Nimmer M, et al. Perceptions about water and increased use of bottled water in minority children. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2011. Epub ahead of print.