Nearly half of Minnesota students say they consume sugary drinks at least once a day, a habit that increases their risk of becoming obese and developing Type 2 diabetes, among other health issues.
State health officials said an analysis of the 2019 Minnesota Student Survey also uncovered disparities among students in how much sugar they consume.
Black students, American Indians and other students of color reported drinking more sugar-sweetened beverages a day than white students. And students experiencing economic hardship were more likely to consume sugary drinks three times or more a day compared to the average for all students, according to the analysis.
The COVID-19 pandemic likely is adding to the problem.
"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," said Laura Perdue, nutrition policy coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Health.
One 20-ounce soda contains 17 teaspoons of added sugars, three times the maximum daily amount recommended by the American Heart Association for children ages 2 to 18.
"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," Perdue said.
Students who said they had prediabetes were twice as likely to report having sugary drinks three or more times a day than students without prediabetes, the survey showed.
Advertising and marketing likely are helping to drive consumption of sugary drinks, with more than $1 billion spent in 2018 promoting such products in the United States, according to a report this year by the University of Connecticut's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.
The report points out that African American children and teens see more than twice as many sugary drink ads as their white counterparts, in part because of ads during programming that is disproportionately viewed by them. Sugary drinks also are heavily advertised on Spanish-language TV networks, the report said.