e-mail Print Share

Are you drinking fluoridated tap water yet? Colorado coalition wants to know

April 21, 2016

By Michelle Manchir

Denver, Colo. — If chronic plastic bottled water drinkers learn about the health and safety of their tap water, will they drink it?

It’s a question the Colorado Dental Association and Oral Health Colorado — along with other partnering health organizations — are trying to answer.

In 2015, the groups teamed up and called themselves “The Tap Water Coalition.” They applied for grants to learn more about the perceptions that some Denver metro area Hispanic immigrants of Mexican origin have about tap water. Their goal is to create a media campaign aimed at teaching the safety and benefits of drinking fluoridated tap water.

Photo of Ms. Foote
Ms. Foote
The groups wanted to target Hispanic immigrants of Mexican origin because of the oral health disparities that exist among this population, and because of the perceived reluctance by many to drink tap water, organizers said. Furthermore, said Deborah Foote, executive director of Oral Health Colorado, this community tends to be disproportionately targeted by advertising for bottled water and for sugary beverages.

“When you look at the ads that are out there for this population, it is very clear (companies) know there is a fear of drinking tap water because of its historical perspective on tap water. They are very much targeting that population,” Ms. Foote said, also noting a 2011 cross-sectional survey published by the Journal of the American Medical Association Network that found minority parents are more likely to exclusively give bottled water to their children than non-Latino white parents in part because of concerns about tap water safety.

In January 2015, with help from a communications agency and funding from the ADA Foundation and DentaQuest, the coalition hosted focus groups in Spanish with Hispanic immigrants of Mexican origin from the Denver area to measure their trust and use in tap water, and to ask about how often they drink it.

While many at the focus groups expressed a distrust of tap water and had never heard about the importance and availability of fluoride in it, they also talked about a desire to learn more, and an openness to be educated and possibly change behaviors, according to a report summarizing the focus groups.

According to the report, one focus group participant believed warm tap water contains lead, while another said, “I come from Mexico, where you don’t drink the water; it’s not drinkable.”

Armed with this information, the coalition hopes to soon acquire more grant funding and begin creating and disseminating a targeted media campaign.
Photo of Ms. Foote
Ms. Pereira

“Now we have the tools that we need to go out there and make messaging to educate others,” said Molly Pereira, associate executive director of the Colorado Dental Association.

The groups that make up the coalition include the American Heart Association, Denver Health, Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation and several public health departments and environmental groups from around the state.

The unique collaboration, said Ms. Foote, is “beyond what we call our traditional partners.”

“We simply reached into our network, which is always evolving and strengthening, to pull people with a specific interest in in this particular issue to collaborate with us,” she said, noting that the environmental groups would like to see less waste from plastic bottled water use. “This is really a very new and novel collaboration.”

For other communities that may wish to initiate this sort of education program, Ms. Foote recommends first knowing your population. The Denver area’s Latino population is mostly Mexican, she said, and different populations bring different perspectives with them regarding tap water.

“What works in Colorado might work for other states with similar immigration patterns, but not necessarily places like New York City, where more diverse messaging would be necessary,” she said.

While the coalition’s project remains dependent on finding funding, its members remain ambitious. They hope to eventually broadcast educational messages with Telemundo, an American Spanish-language broadcast TV network owned by NBCUniversal Hispanic Group.

“We just really want people to understand that tap water is safe, and that it’s so accessible — just turn on your kitchen faucet,” said Ms. Pereira.

The ADA endorses community water fluoridation. For more information about the safety and benefit of fluoridation, visit ADA.org/fluoride. For more information about the work of Oral Health Colorado, visit oralhealthcolorado.org.