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Growing Healthy Kids


Krizia Melendez, PhD, MPH, CHES
Health Program Manager, 
[email protected]


WFFT in Columbus

Implementing a water-only vending program at Columbus City Schools

Since 2009, vending contracts in Columbus City Schools (the largest school system in the state) have allowed only water to be sold in beverage vending machines that are accessible to over 50,000 students.58 This model policy was influential in the City of Columbus’ recognition as a Let’s Move Cities, Counties, Towns by the National League of Cities. In addition, this became a model policy for the GHKC coalition Water First for Thirst campaign in 2013. Since then, this campaign was picked up by the Ohio Department of Health’s Creating Healthy Communities project. This campaign and the Columbus City School’s water only vending policy is used statewide to promote water and limit sugar sweetened beverages.

Columbus Recreation and Parks Department commits to Water First for Thirst campaign

In 2013, Columbus Recreation and Parks Department (CRPD) committed to the Water First for Thirst campaign by promoting water as the beverage of choice for children and families. As outlined in the list of strategies, CRPD removed the advertisement of sugar-sweetened beverages from the back of their summer course catalog and replaced it with water. Their commitment to a healthier community continues to hold strong with images of active living and positive public health messaging appearing throughout their course catalogs which are distributed through 29 recreational sites reaching over 10,000 community members yearly in central Ohio.

YMCA of Central Ohio early care and head start programs adapting Healthy Celebration policies - includes no SSBs

In 2016, the YMCA of Central Ohio was also successful in implementing a detailed Healthy Celebration policy to address the large amount of sugar that was served at typical birthday and holiday celebrations at their early learning programs. The policy includes serving water, healthy food choices and planned physical activity as well as prohibiting sweets and sugar sweetened beverages. In addition to implementing this policy, the YMCA of Central Ohio also distributed handouts to preschool families to support healthy celebrations in preschools and school age programs.

Nationwide Children’s Hospital eliminates sugary drinks from its campus

On January 3, 2011, Nationwide Children’s Hospital moved to eliminate all sugar-sweetened drinks from its campus. This policy impacted the hospital’s  cafeterias, gift shops, vending machines, patient room service and on-site catering service. At the same time, Nationwide Children’s also expanded its selection of healthier drink options like waters, low-fat milk, pure fruit juices and diet sodas. In addition, Nationwide Children’s decreased the cost of bottled water for sale in its cafeteria and food court.52 According to evaluations, this policy altered beverage sales in 12 months without revenue loss at non-vending food locations. Beverage sales patterns shifted with a decrease in carbonated beverages and an increase in milk, juice, water and coffee sales. Decreasing the price for bottled water may have contributed to the increase seen, while eliminating the 20-ounce coffee did not affect sales negatively. Overall, the success of this system’s change demonstrated that a SSB ban can have great environmental change impact, particularly if implemented within a broader wellness initiative that includes healthier food options.53

Columbus City Council voted unanimously to ensure that restaurants are offering water, milk or 100% juice as the default drink options, instead of soda or other sugary drinks.

On December 16, 2020  Columbus City Council passed a Healthy Default Beverage Ordinance (2870-2020) to protect children in the City of Columbus and reduce health risks associated with sugar consumption. The ordinance requires restaurants to make healthy drinks -- water, low-fat milk and 100% fruit juice -- the default options offered with restaurant kids’ meals. This law became effective on June 16, 2021.

Bottle Filling Station legislation passes House and Senate

In December 2020, the Ohio House passed (82-2) and the Senate unanimously concurred upon, SB 259, legislation that includes provisions from HB 360 that will modernize the current drinking fountain requirement for school buildings by ensuring that newly built schools include water bottle filling stations -- a common-sense way to encourage our kids to drink more water.

Implementing a healthy water policy using shared use agreements at the Mount Carmel West Health Living Center

The Mount Carmel West Living Center established a shared use agreement which serves as a contract between the Living Center and external organizations, partners, individuals or programs looking to rent rooms in their space. Their space can be rented out at no cost to the requester if both parties agree to the terms of use, which include healthy components. The shared use agreement includes a form agencies need to complete before they can use the rooms which includes a checklist. A water availability policy was created as part of the requirements in the shared use agreement form, which increases the number of healthy beverages offered at events at the Living Center. By offering the space at no cost to the community, the agreement increases the accessible opportunities for healthy eating and active living opportunities throughout the community. Additionally, the Living Center features a state-of-the-art Consumer Health Library, a demonstration kitchen and an open space to allow for physical activity and meetings.57

Adaptation of Water First for Thirst as one of Ohio Healthy Program’s goals for policy and environmental change

Ohio Healthy Programs is a voluntary designation available to child care providers across the state, recognizing those who have gone above and beyond licensing requirements to better create a healthy environment for young children in their care. Effective in 2015, menu requirements for child care providers who seek the designation will be required to add a “Water First for Thirst” standard. This standard requires designated providers to not serve beverages with added sweeteners, including soda, diet soda, flavored milk, fruit drinks, sports drinks and sweet teas.

Creating Healthy Communities adapts the Water First for Thirst Campaign

Around 2012, the Creating Healthy Communities (CHC) Columbus program promoted the Water First for Thirst campaign along with 11 other key messages mirroring the 0-5 Key Messages created by Healthy Children, Healthy Weights. Because of the success and simplicity of the Water First for Thirst message, CHC Ohio adopted and promoted the campaign statewide in 23 counties and beyond. This has shown to be a successful collaboration. Between 2016 and 2017, 19 local policies supporting food and beverage guidelines were implemented across Ohio and 13 water fountains or filling stations were installed to provide free access to water.