It’s hard to overestimate the power of marketing. The same magic that made a 10-cent cup of coffee with milk into something millions of Americans would gladly spend $5 for also has changed the way Americans think about water.

Buying water by the bottle used to be something for Europeans, who would swear by the health benefits of products associated with spas in the mountains. Americans were fine with soda pop.

Not any more. The average person in this country drinks 35 gallons of bottled water per year, more than twice the amount that people drank 15 years ago. According to a beverage industry trade group, it’s not a question of whether water will surpass soda as the No. 1 packaged beverage bought by consumers, but a question of when it will happen, with trends suggesting that it could be as soon as 2017.

This is good news from a public health perspective. Sugar-sweetened soda loaded up Americans, especially children, with thousands of empty calories. Added sugar in the American diet is not only bad for people’s teeth, it stresses their livers and is associated with obesity, heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer, and has no nutritional benefit at all. Some studies suggest it also prevents people from feeling sated, leading them to overeat.

Water, on the other hand, is the perfect way to quench your thirst, and is essential for survival. The news that Americans are drinking more water is good news, but there is one problem.

Bottled water might be good for you but not so good for the environment. It takes energy to manufacture the billions of bottles that Americans consume each year, and energy to truck them to market, adding to the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. Many of the empties end up as litter and the ones that are thrown away fill landfills, especially in states that don’t have a deposit bottle law.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. The heavily regulated municipal water systems of the United States deliver potable water from taps in every state. All it takes is a little foresight to bring a refillable bottle with you and stay refreshed and healthy where ever you go.

Bottled water is not any better for you than tap water. In fact, some leading brands of bottled water are tap water. The only thing that separates the water that comes out of a plastic bottle from the kind that comes out of a kitchen sink is a name, a label and dedicated space in a vending machine or convenience store cooler.

So, while it’s excellent news to learn that Americans are reaching for water when they want a cold drink, it would be better still if they didn’t think that they are doing themselves any favors by drinking it from a disposable bottle.

Americans spend billions in tax money each year to ensure that water from municipal systems is safe to drink, and we shouldn’t let some slick marketing make us forget it.

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