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MDH finds 'troubling' trend in how many sugary drinks students are consuming

Nearly half of students have a sugary drink a day. Health officials recommend limiting it to one per week or fewer.

A "troubling" number of students in Minnesota are drinking sugary beverages on a daily basis, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) says.

Nearly half of Minnesota students say they drink a sugary drink – pop, fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened waters and coffee and tea with sweeteners – at least once a day, the 2019 Minnesota Student Survey says

Kids who are drinking a 20-ounce soda are consuming 17 teaspoons of added sugars, which is nearly three times the recommended amount of sugar for someone 2-18, MDH says. 

“Having just one sugary drink per day increases a child’s risk of becoming obese by 55%, which puts them at long-term risk for many serious and costly diseases and illnesses, including COVID-19 and premature death,” Laura Perdue, and MDH nutrition policy coordinator, said in a statement.

Not only does added sugar increases a child's risk of obesity, but it also can lead to Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular complications, MDH says. And those conditions could put kids at risk of serious illness from COVID-19. 

“Obesity and other chronic health conditions were a challenge for us well before the COVID-19 pandemic, and during the pandemic these issues have taken on a new significance,” MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in a news release. “Even as we focus on fighting COVID-19, we can’t afford to lose sight of the importance of addressing the chronic conditions that make people more susceptible to all sorts of health problems.”

MDH's analysis of the student survey, which 170,000 students responded to, found there are disparities among students when it comes to their consumption of sugar. 

Students who identified as Black, American Indian and/or people of color said they consumed more sugary drinks per day compared to their white classmates. The survey also showed students who are experiencing economic hardship were twice as likely to have sugary drinks three or more times per day compared to the average for all students. 

MDH says sugary drink advertising, which is often disproportionately seen by Black and Spanish-language youth, is a key factor in kids' continued consumption of sugary beverages.

Sugary drinks are the No. 1 source of added sugars in the U.S. diet, according to MDH, which recommends limiting them to one or fewer per week. 

Instead, MDH recommends choosing milk or water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages. It also encourages schools, restaurants and stores to help by offering these beverages instead of pop or other sugar-filled drinks with meals or at checkout aisles. 

While water isn't an appealing alternative for many, MDH says you can toss a few slices of cut of fruit or a splash of 100% juice in your water or sparkling water for a healthier alternative to sugar-filled drinks. 

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“It’s natural to seek comfort during stressful times like the ones we are in now, and many people, including children, report that they are snacking more, eating less fresh food and more sugary snacks and junk food,” Perdue said. “Parents and caregivers who are looking for support to offer their kids healthy food and drinks during the pandemic can find helpful tips and advice on the Minnesota Department of Health’s website.”

MDH has a website dedicated to sugary beverages (here) and to eating healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic (here) with more tips and information. 

The Minnesota Student Survey, which has been conducted since 1989, is given to students in public, charter, and tribal schools every three years. Students in grades 5, 8, 9, and 11 are given the survey.

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