Year 10 Broadwood Area School students Michile Low-Allan, Ariana Adams , Tristan Karauria and Damon Williams need no encouragement to quench their thirst with water. Picture/supplied

Far North tamariki look set to continue reaping the benefits of making water the best choice of drink for the rest of their lives, according to the New Zealand Dental Association.

The association’s Switch to Water Challenge, which ran throughout November to build on National Oral Health Day, invited individuals and workplaces to sign up to be in the draw for a range of prizes. But for two Far North schools, the real prize was a commitment to the nurturing of health-promoting environments that safeguarded the overall well-being and learning outcomes of their students.

Broadwood Area School switched to water several years ago, when it became a test site for Hauora Hokianga to trial solar water purification. The system proved so viable that it had since been rolled out across several Hokianga marae, principal Pani Hauraki said. The school’s rain water supply was used to fill water dispensers, with monthly tests to ensure its high quality.

“The kids use [the dispensers], and we don’t make a big deal about it. They just have a drink. But in the beginning we had to convince families,” Ms Hauraki said.

“Whanau are used to having [fizzy drinks], because it’s cheaper than water. That was the ridiculous scenario. But now we just do it.”

The school emphasised the value of “mahi tahi” with the community in making water the best choice of drink, and had removed the perceived stigma of water as a “poor” drink, promoting it as the best drink to quench thirst and for good health.

Meanwhile, Te Rangi Aniwaniwa is at the beginning of its journey with a water-only policy before the board of trustees for approval, for implementation at the beginning of next year.

Tumuaki Irirangi Tawhara said the policy would make the kura sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) free on a daily basis, and during events when external caterers used the kura premises, following the success of the inaugural Indigenous Youth Basketball Tournament, which saw the kura, Kaitaia Basketball Association and Healthy Families Far North enter a memorandum of understanding to make the event water-only and provide healthy kai options, earlier this year.

“I’m all about promoting health, and drinking water should be normalised anyway,” Ms Tawhara said.

“It’s a bit like excellence in kura, or our reo. It’s the same with hauora. The expectation should already be there that kura should facilitate or support having wai inside kura or at events and have tikanga to support that, or a rahui on sugary drinks.”

Having tohunga, or special advocates, leading the kaupapa by visiting the kura, checking on progress and helping the kura implement action plans on its water-only journey, would also be a powerful influence.

Healthy Families Far North kaiwhakahaere Shirleyanne Brown said the SSB-free movement and the availability of clean drinking water was a national priority for Healthy Families NZ in its work to reduce chronic disease risk on a large scale.

“Sugary drinks have no nutritional value, and contribute significantly to a raft of health issues, including the erosion of teeth and obesity, which puts you at greater risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and some cancers,” she said.

“Making a commitment to a SSB-free lifestyle and making water the best choice of drink is one of the best things you can do for the health of you and your whānau.”

Source: Northern Advocate

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