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Agency for Healthcare Research Quality

Primary Care Research

Doctors should advise Latino families about the safety, low cost, and dental health benefits of drinking tap water

More than half of the U.S. population drinks bottled water, with Latino women the group most likely to do so. Many Latino families avoid drinking tap water because they fear it causes illness, according to a new study. Of particular concern was the finding that 40 percent of children who never drank tap water were not receiving fluoride supplements.

Costly bottled and filtered water usually do not contain fluoride, which protects against dental cavities. This is particularly important for Latino and black children, who have higher rates of untreated dental caries than white children (43 and 36 vs. 26 percent), note the University of Utah researchers.

They recommend that doctors advise Latino families about the safety, low cost, and dental health benefits of drinking tap water. The researchers surveyed 216 parents of children cared for in an urban public health center in Utah. Thirty percent of parents said that they never drank tap water and 41 percent said they never gave it to their children.

Latino parents were 74 percent less likely than non-Latino parents to drink tap water and 68 percent less likely to give tap water to their children. Bottled or filtered water was most likely to be consumed by immigrant Latino families and families least able to afford it. For example, nearly two-thirds of the lowest-income families (less than $15,000 per year) always gave bottled or filtered water to their children.

Latinos were nearly six times more likely than other parents to believe that tap water would make them sick; however, U.S. regulations for the safety of tap water are more stringent than those for bottled water, note the researchers.

Their study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS11826).

More details are in "Bottled, filtered, and tap water use in Latino and non-Latino children," by Wendy L. Hobson, M.D., M.S.P.H., Miguel L. Knochel, M.D., Carrie L. Byington, M.D., and others in the May 2007 Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine 161, pp. 457-461.

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