BOSTON - Minority parents are disproportionately more likely to give their children bottled water rather than water from the kitchen tap, a cross-sectional survey found.
Latino and African-American children were three times more likely to drink only bottled water than were non-Hispanic white kids (24% versus 8%), according to Marc H. Gorelick, MD, and colleagues from the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
The survey respondents cited a number of reasons for relying on the bottled product, including the belief that it's safer than tap water, the researchers reported online in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
The increasing use of bottled water is cause for alarm not only from an environmental perspective but also from a health point of view, with bacterial contamination and illness having been documented in several studies, they explained.
Moreover, bottled water is not fluoridated, which may have a negative impact on children's oral health.
In addition, the researchers noted, money spent on bottled water may exacerbate the economic hardships faced by many minority families.
Although higher rates of bottled water use among minorities have been reported previously, the reasons have remained largely unexplored.
So Gorelick's group conducted a survey among 632 parents of children being treated at a pediatric emergency department.
Respondents were asked about their beliefs about water, prior experiences with water, and sources of information about water.
Whites, African Americans, and Hispanics made up the study population in roughly equal proportions.
More than half of the white parents were college educated, compared with 21% of blacks and 17% of Hispanics.
Median monthly income was $3,500 for whites, compared with $1,500 for both minority groups (P<0.05).
A total of 44.8% of parents responded that they gave their children exclusively or mostly bottled water.
Minorities were significantly more likely to use only or mostly bottled water, rather than only or mostly tap water (P<0.001), the researchers found.
Univariate analyses showed that parental college education level was associated with less likelihood of bottled water use, while relying on family for information about water was positively associated with use.
Multivariate analysis of beliefs about bottled water found these factors to be significantly associated with bottled water rather than tap water use:
Bottled water is cleaner
Bottled water tastes better
Bottled water is convenient
Use of bottled water can prevent illness
"Despite these perceptions about the safety and health effects of bottled water, there is little if any objective evidence that in most circumstances there is any actual health benefit of bottled water over tap water in the United States," observed Gorelick and colleagues.
Other findings included the observation that parents who had used mostly tap water when they were younger were less likely to give bottled water to their children.
However, having had a bad experience with tap water increased the likelihood of bottled water use.
Among parents who used bottled water, whites reported spending a median $12 a month on water, compared with $20 among minorities.
Those dollars meant cutting back spending on other things for 12% of blacks and 14% of Latinos; only 6% of whites said expenditures for water meant sacrificing in other areas.
Clinicians could help prevent health disparities associated with bottled water use by initiating discussions of the health effects and beliefs about water, particularly among at-risk minority families who may skimp on spending for other health needs, according to the study authors.
One limitation of the data was the possibility that not all factors relevant to choice of water may have been included in the survey.
In addition, the respondents were enrolled in the emergency department setting during treatment of a sick child, so the findings may not be generalizable to the wider