Objective. While adequate hydration is undoubtedly essential for health, well-being, performance and learning, it is important to recognize that drinks may also have significant detrimental effects on both general and dental health. Since, on weekdays, at least half of a child's recommended daily fluid intake must be imbibed at school, this study sought to examine the provision of drinks in that setting.

Subjects and methods. A self-administered postal questionnaire study was sent to the head teachers of all 107 state primary and all 20 state secondary schools in Cardiff, South Wales, UK.

Results. A response rate of 81·9% was achieved. Children had access to fresh drinking water from at least one drinking fountain in 69 (66·4%) of the 104 schools who responded to the questionnaire. Milk was available in 69 (80·2%) of the 86 responding primary schools. Sixteen (88·9%) of the 18 responding secondary schools had drink vending machines selling a variety of drinks.

Conclusions. While primary schools appear largely to restrict the availability of drinks to those conducive to the maintenance of good general and dental health, secondary schools appear to foster the use of vending machines. Guidelines should be developed on the use and content of vending machines in schools in order to both meet school objectives and promote healthy choices.