Should We Drink Bottled Water or Tap Water?

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November 13, 2013

Poland Spring, Fiji, Aquafina, Deer Park, Dasani, Evian…the list goes on and on. Today, bottled water is becoming more and more prevalent as people turn to this option as a healthy alternative to drinking other bottled beverages, such as sodas and energy drinks. However, you may have heard concerns regarding the differences between tap water and bottled water. This next piece in our Public Health Mythbusters series covers this issue, the advantages and disadvantages of each option, and some tips to ensure the health of you and your family. 

Bottled water vs. tap water—what’s the difference and what is in the bottle?

It may surprise you to know that bottled water and tap water come from essentially the same sources. Lakes, springs, wells, or even the municipal water supply provide the water for bottling companies. The major difference, however, is the fact that bottled water is filtered and treated in to improve its taste and therefore its marketability. While it is a healthy, tasty, and convenient option, bottled water is a thousand-fold more expensive to consume because of the cost to the buyer, which arises from packaging, manufacturing, and transporting the product.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates bottled water, while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates tap water, but the standards are basically the same. However, it is interesting to note that bottled water is effectively just hyped up tap water. This is a huge market with worldwide bottle sales estimated at somewhere between $50-100 billion every year. 

Are there other issues with drinking bottled water?

At the individual level, the water bottles themselves can sometimes become unsafe—for example, if you leave a water bottle in a hot car, chemicals from the plastic can leach into the water, rendering it harmful for one’s health. (Note: if you’re worried about this issue, you can check out our previous Mythbusters piece on plastics and health). On a macro scale, plastic water bottles are a huge contributor to global waste—bottled water is a huge business that has a massive affect on the environment. The waste that is generated can be reduced by relying on the municipal water supply, which is already ubiquitous and highly regulated for public health purposes, making this a very safe and cost-effective option for everyone.

Who else is weighing in and how can I take action?

Most medical experts agree that tap water is safe and cheaper than bottle water. But isn’t bottled water better and cleaner, and therefore, healthier for us? Not necessarily! Dentists are joining the argument against drinking bottled water because they have been seeing an increase in the number of children coming into their offices with new cavities and compromised dental health.  

It is important to note that it is not the water itself that is causing tooth decay, but rather, it is the lack of fluoride in the water. Fluoride makes children’s tooth structure resilient to decay, and for the past 60 years, the U.S. has supported community water fluoridation—this involves adding fluoride to the public water supply, and has resulted in a significant decrease in childhood cavities.

Unfortunately, many dentists state that with the recent increase in bottled water consumption, there is a correlating increase in cavities. However, some bottle water companies are beginning to add fluoride to their products to counteract this public health issue.

So what can you do to prevent this from happening with your family? For starters, you could choose a bottled water brand that fluoridates their water. Additionally, if you prefer bottled water, you can increase consumption of certain foods that are high in fluoride, and you can encourage all family members to brush with a fluoride-based toothpaste twice per day. Alternatively, if you want to opt for tap water, but are anxious about its taste or cleanliness, you can purchase a water filter pitcher or filter installation for your sink.

Overall, there are many advantages and disadvantages of drinking bottled water vs. tap water. Some may find that one tastes better than the other or that the convenience factor is important. In the end, tap water is a cheap and healthy choice for you and your family—it reduces environmental impact, ensures the dental health of your children, and is the most cost-effective and healthy way to stay hydrated!

For more resources on these topics, and to see where I turned for my information, please visit the following links: