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Many Hispanic Immigrants Afraid to Drink Tap Water, Says Medical School Study


Got water? Make that tap water, please. This is what a recent University of Utah School of Medicine study is recommending to many Hispanic immigrants in Salt Lake City who are not drinking tap water because they think it's unsafe.

The research shows that many Latinos spend unnecessarily on bottled water and filters, and their children don't benefit from fluoridation of community water because of such misconception.

The study was conducted among 216 families who visit South Main Clinic in Salt Lake City, which provides health care to underserved women and children, most of whom are Hispanic immigrants. "More Latinos than non-Latinos always drink bottled water because they're afraid tap water will make them sick," said Wendy L. Hobson, M.D., M.S.P.H., assistant professor of pediatrics, and the study's lead author. This perception is based on their experiences from their home countries where water may be unsafe, she said.

Bottled and filtered water cost about a hundred times more per gallon than tap water, and Hobson expressed concern that low-income people were spending needlessly on it. Salt Lake County started adding fluoride to its drinking water supply last year to help promote dental health, but many Latino families may not be benefiting from the initiative.

Researchers conducted the study to determine bottled, filtered, and tap-water use among South Main patients and also compare water-use patterns among ethnic and socio-economic groups. Hobson, who presented study results in May at the National Pediatric Academic Society conference in San Francisco, noted that there's little data available about types of water use among children, especially among immigrants.

Of the 216 families that answered the written survey, in English and in Spanish, 80 percent were Hispanics and 20 percent non-Hispanics. Among adults, 34 percent of Hispanics and 22 percent of non-Hispanics said they never drink tap water. Among their children, 38 percent of Hispanics and 26 percent of non-Hispanics always drink filtered and bottled water. Forty-two percent of Latinos believed tap water will make them sick, compared with 12 percent of non-Latinos. Similar water-use patterns were found among recent and long-term immigrants.

South Main pediatricians have already started talking to their patients about the issue, said Hobson. The study recommended that other clinics help educate patients and families about tap water's safety and benefits.

In addition to Hobson, the other investigators in the study are: Karen F. Buchi, M.D., South Main's pediatrics director and associate professor of pediatrics; Charles Hoff, Ph.D., professor; Carrie Byington, M.D., associate professor, all from the U School of Medicine's Department of Pediatrics; and Miguel Knochel, a recent medical school graduate.

South Main is operated by the U medical school and the Salt Lake Valley Health Department.