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Students report healthier behaviors at school

A Minnesota Department of Education report released Tuesday show a majority of Minnesota students feel positively about their schools, homes and neighborhoods.

A Minnesota Department of Education report released Tuesday show a majority of Minnesota students feel positively about their schools, homes and neighborhoods.

The 2016 Minnesota Student Survey showed a majority of Minnesota students feel highly engaged in school, believe their school provides a supportive place for learning, report good health and feel safe in their homes, neighborhoods and schools.

The survey results continue a trend ongoing since the 1990s of teens making healthier choices related to drinking, smoking and sexual activity. However, the survey also provides important evidence Minnesota's generally positive results hide health gaps suffered by economically disadvantaged teens and teens of color.

Every three years, Minnesota's fifth-, eighth-, ninth- and 11th-grade students complete the voluntary, anonymous survey. It includes questions on school climate, bullying, out-of-school activities, healthy eating, emotional health, substance use, connections with school and family and many other topics. State agencies use the survey to identify important trends and target effort and resources to more efficiently improve the wellbeing of the state's youth.

The Minnesota Department of Education summarized some of the survey data in "Snapshots on Minnesota Youth: 2016 Minnesota Student Survey Whole Child Report." This report looks at four of five indicators of student well-being as viewed through the Whole Child framework perspective. The Whole Child framework is an educational approach that focuses on fully preparing students for college and career by ensuring each student is healthy, safe, engaged and supported.

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"There are many factors outside of school that can prevent children from succeeding," said Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius in a news release. "That is why the Minnesota Student Survey is so valuable. Schools, districts, community organizations, local and state agencies rely on MSS data to identify the issues young people are facing, so that we can address those issues to strengthen student achievement."

Survey results

• Sixty-nine percent of Minnesota students surveyed reported excellent or very good health. Teens are engaging in fewer risky behaviors. Student smoking rates have fallen to an all-time low, though a gap continues to persist with children of color and economically disadvantaged students smoking at higher rates. Alcohol use, sexual activity and marijuana use have also fallen.

• Eighty-seven percent of students say they feel safe at home, at school, in their neighborhood and going to and from school. However, 18 percent of students surveyed reported being bullied or harassed weekly in at least one way during the last 30 days. Economically disadvantaged students and LGBT students report higher rates of bullying.

• Seventy-eight percent of students feel highly engaged in school. Sixty-five percent are engaged in out-of-school time activities at least three days a week.

• Seventy-five percent of students believe their school provides a supportive place for learning.

"This year's survey highlights the success of some recent public health actions focused on our youth," said Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger in a news release. "It shows our actions to curb youth smoking and indoor tanning are reducing risky behaviors. However, it also identifies the growing threat of e-cigarettes and shows more must be done ensure all youth, regardless of race, sexual orientation or economic status, are getting a healthy start."

• Additional health highlights include the fact that use of tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana declined between 2013 and 2016. But among 11th-grade students, 17.1 percent reported using electronic cigarettes in the past 30 days, twice as many as those who smoked regular cigarettes at 8.4 percent.

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• Indoor tanning among teens declined significantly. Some teens still report doing it though, despite a statewide ban on teen-use of tanning beds. Indoor tanning can result in harm, such as melanoma, a dangerous form of skin cancer. The Minnesota Department of Health estimates that more than 2,000 11th-grade females used indoor tanning beds in 2016.

• In the area of mental health, about one in five students showed signs of depression, and 12 percent of 11th-grade students reported that they seriously considered suicide in the past year, up from 9.7 percent in 2013. The percentage of students who were overweight or obese also increased.

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