Where are all the drinking fountains?

6:00 pm on 4 February 2018

A new study has found 80 percent of playgrounds in the lower North Island are without drinking fountains.

no caption

The study found that four out of five North Island playgrounds have no drinking fountains. Photo: 123RF

The study, published on Friday in the New Zealand Medical Journal, randomly selected parks and playgrounds from 17 different council areas.

Otago University researcher Nick Wilson said easier access to fountains would encourage children to drink water instead of sugary drinks, which was necessary given the country's susceptibility to hot weather, and childhood obesity problems.

"Providing drinking water is an important thing our society should do, given the obesity problem, but also with climate change and the increasing probability of heatwaves we need to have more drinking fountains so that people can stay cool and well-hydrated."

Mr Wilson said while the jurisdiction lay with local council bodies, central government had a duty to assist to reduce the amount of taxpayers' money spent on health-related issues.

"It's also a central government issue because the taxpayers of New Zealand are forking out money to hospitals to pay for the obesity problem and to pay for pulling rotten teeth out of mouths, so maybe these are things that central government should consider and say we will support councils to have a minimum level of drinking fountains in parks, sports fields and in children's playgrounds."

He said it was likely the low number of fountains was not limited to the lower North Island.

"A study we did last year, just in Wellington also showed that only six percent of playgrounds in Wellington had drinking fountains and a study in Auckland found a similar very low level so this does seem to be a general problem for New Zealand."

He said during the study there was little evidence of vandalised fountains and where there were drinking fountains - they were popular.

"Our survey showed very low levels of vandalism and it's possible to design fountains to really minimise the vandalism risk so it is a bit if a mystery why there aren't more fountains especially as some councils are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on playground equipment, so given fountains typically only cost a few thousand dollars to install it does seem that this is something councils are just overlooking or not giving enough consideration to."

Mr Wilson said increasing the number of drinking fountains would also reduce the number of plastic bottles used by New Zealanders.

"One concern we have is that in some parts of the country people just aren't used to actually expecting a drinking fountain in parks and playgrounds, so maybe they're just in the habit of buying drinks or taking their own drinks because they're used to just not seeing them.

"So if councils actually up their game and provide more fountains then it might be easier to study these type of relationships between having more fountains and a reduction in sugary drink consumption."

The study surveyed 54 playgrounds over 17 councils.

Eight councils had no drinking fountains in any of their sampled playgrounds and only one council had drinking fountains in all of their playgrounds.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs