High school students aren’t doing much running—and when they do run, there’s a good chance it’s to a vending machine.
Roughly one-third of high school students in the U.S. drink two or more sodas, sports drinks, or other sugary beverages per day, but only 15% get the one hour of daily aerobic exercise that health officials recommend, according to the results of a nationwide survey released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Although 51% of students do engage in muscle-strengthening exercise (such as push-ups or weight lifting) at least three days a week, as guidelines recommend, the overall picture is less than ideal.
“Regular physical activity has so many benefits to kids,” says CDC researcher MinKyoung Song, PhD, who coauthored a report analyzing the survey results. “Not doing enough can lead to numerous problems later in life, like heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.”
High school girls were far less likely than boys to meet the recommendation for either type of exercise. Just over 8% of girls in the survey reported getting 60 minutes of aerobic exercise per day, compared to 22% for boys.
And across the board, students in higher grades were less likely than underclassmen to get enough exercise.
The findings are troubling but not surprising. “For the past decade, there’s been very little change in participation in aerobic activity among high school students,” Song says.
The survey, which was conducted in 2010, included a nationally representative sample of 11,429 U.S. students, who filled out questionnaires about their eating and exercise habits during the previous week.
A second report from the same survey found that although water, milk, and 100% fruit juice are the most popular beverages among high schoolers, most students supplement these healthy drinks with soda and other sugary beverages.
Nearly one-quarter of students reported drinking at least one soda daily. In all, 63 percent of students consumed at least one soda, sports drink (like Gatorade), or other sweetened drink per day, and 33 percent drank two or more.
“The fact that we see roughly two-thirds of students drinking sugary beverages daily, and one-third drinking them two or more times a day, is a problem,” says the lead author of the report, Nancy D. Brener, Ph.D., a researcher in the CDC’s division of adolescent and school health. “It adds a lot of sugar and excess calories to the diet. And it comes in the way of other nutrients they need.”
Like too little exercise, consuming too much soda or other sugary beverages can contribute to weight gain and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, the report notes. Since most consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages occurs at home, Brener urges parents to encourage their children to replace sugary beverages with water and other, healthier options.
“It’s not to say you shouldn’t ever have a sugary drink,” she says. “But it should be a special occasion, not on a routine basis.”