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OSNAP Initiative: Strategies to Increase Drinking Water Access


Providing access to drinking water is both a low-cost and relatively easy target for making healthy change. Promoting drinking water to U.S. school children as the beverage of choice instead of sugar-sweetened beverages is a recommended health promotion strategy and is supported by national legislation, the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010.

OSNAP strategies to increase drinking water access consist of engaging stakeholders, facilitating learning communities to change policies and practices, reviewing and changing snack menus, serving water to children every day in afterschool programs, and implementing the Food & Fun hydration curriculum in afterschool programs. Afterschool program directors and staff attend learning communities to focus on goal setting, problem solving and the implementation of policies, practices and communication strategies relevant to goals they set.

Learning communities provide the foundation for organizational and environmental changes to afterschool practice and policy. They are based on the collaborative improvement model developed by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (see Kilo paper under Additional Information section). The learning communities include three in-person sessions, each approximately three hours in length. At the meetings, afterschool staff assess their programs’ current practices and then set actionable goals for improving practices, write relevant policies, and identify strategies for communication.

The OSNAP Initiative has been successfully implemented in afterschool programs operated in and by the schools. In addition, it has been implemented in afterschool programs run by community organizations using their own facilities, including YMCAs, community centers, and Boys and Girls Clubs.


The Harvard School of Public Health Prevention Research Center developed the OSNAP research project to work with out of school time (OST) programs to improve nutrition- and physical activity-related practices, environments and policies. OSNAP, through its interactive website, www.osnap.org, provides afterschool program staff and organizational leaders with resources to improve their program practices and policies related to healthy foods, drinks, and physical activity.  One component of the OSNAP initiative focuses on providing access to free drinking water at snack time for children in afterschool programs.

The Center TRT review of the OSNAP Initiative focused only on research related to increasing drinking water access. The intervention was carried out by the researchers and by the primary snack providers at afterschool programs in Boston, Massachusetts. The goal of the research was to increase the frequency with which water was served to children during afterschool snack.

Policies at the state and national levels, including The Massachusetts School Nutrition Bill of 2011 and the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, were both enacted as the OSNAP Initiative was well into the development and implementation phases. This legislation requires that schools make free, potable water available to children throughout the school day and at school meals. The synchronicity in the timing of the OSNAP initiative and the federal and state policies creates a receptive environment in the United States for more efforts to increase access to free drinking water in school and community programs and highlights the importance of these efforts.

Intended Population: Elementary school-aged children in afterschool programs

Setting:  Schools and community programs operating afterschool programs

Length of time in the field: This intervention was first implemented in October 2010 at 10 sites in Boston, Massachusetts. Since then, it has been implemented in 22 additional sites (6 delayed implementation control sites in Boston; 9 sites in New Bedford, Massachusetts; and 7 sites in Fitchburg, Massachusetts).