One fourth of high school students drink soda or pop daily, according to a report released June 17 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the mid 1990s and 2000s, about 75 percent of teens drank a sugary drink daily, according to the Associated Press. In the past few years, schools have removed unhealthy snacks and sodas from vending machines, says Nancy Brener, the report's author and a CDC researcher. In February 2010, an official in the Obama administration said the president wanted to ban unhealthy drinks in schools under a revised version of No Child Left Behind, the largest and most important federal education law in the country targeted at public schools.
[See why the Secretary of Education wants to revise No Child Left Behind.]
But even though the number of soda drinkers appears to be decreasing, it's likely many more students are consuming other unhealthy drinks, Brener says.
About two thirds of students are drinking some type of sugar-sweetened beverage on a daily basis, and about one third of students drink a sugar-sweetened beverage at least twice a day. About 16 percent drink a sports drink or other sugary beverage on a daily basis, and drinks such as Gatorade or Sunny Delight are often just as unhealthy as soda, Brener says.
"Initially, people think that 25 percent is pretty good, but when you take all [sugary drinks] into account, at least two thirds of students are drinking these daily, and that's bad," she says.
Brener says that government- and school-driven attempts to remove sodas from cafeterias are important, but many students are still tempted by soda and other sugary drinks at home. "The schools are an important first step, and we're excited to see strides there, but there are still other avenues where we need to encourage change."
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But the report did not return entirely bad news. Almost three quarters of students drink at least one serving of water each day, 42 percent of students drink milk daily, and about 30 percent of students drink at least one serving of 100 percent fruit juice daily. That's good news, according to Brener.
"We were pleased to see the No. 1 drink consumed on a daily basis was water," she says. "When we went into this study, we didn't know what we were going to find.
Brener was also surprised by the low number of students who consumed coffee or tea (15 percent) or energy drinks (5 percent) daily.
Energy drinks were "this new big thing we had heard about anecdotally," she says. "The findings don't mean that no kids are drinking them, but there's a very small percentage who drink them as a habit."
[Read about a study that suggests energy drinks may hurt kids.]
Male students were more likely to drink sugary drinks than female students, and black students were more likely to drink sugary drinks than white and Hispanic students. That's not surprising, according to Brener.
"Sports drinks are marketed more towards male and black adolescents," she says. "This data is of great interest to us in trying to find out which groups to target."