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Other Opinion: Sugary drinks puts kids at risk to COVID-19

Kids are not only increasing their risk of becoming obese and developing Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular complications. They face a new health threat: COVID-19, according to health experts.

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A pop quiz: Do the kids in your family love sugary drinks?

Answer: Probably. The 2019 Minnesota Student Survey that found nearly half of students in grades 5, 8, 9 and 11 consume sugary drinks at least once a day.

Parents who think that’s OK should reconsider and have a talk with their children about the risks of drinking too much sugar.

Kids are not only increasing their risk of becoming obese and developing Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular complications. They face a new health threat: COVID-19, according to health experts.

“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,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said in a recent 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.”

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One 20-ounce soda contains 17 teaspoons of added sugars. That's nearly three times the maximum recommended by the American Heart Association for children ages 2-18 to have in one day.

The analysis also found that students who reported having prediabetes were two times more likely to report having sugary drinks three or more times per day compared to students without prediabetes. Adolescents and young adults who develop Type 2 diabetes experience more severe symptoms, more rapidly, and lose approximately 15 years from average life expectancy.

“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,” said Laura Perdue, and MDH nutrition policy coordinator.

Health leaders add that evidence indicates one of the key factors in the continued consumption of sugary drinks by youth is advertising and marketing by the sugary drink industry. Advertising exceeded $1 billion in 2018 in the U.S., according to a 2020 report by the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

The health department said the findings should serve as a call to action for communities, parents and caregivers to work together to encourage young people to make healthy choices and limit access to sugary beverages. Whenever possible, healthier options, such as water and milk, should be provided.

“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.” ( Go to https://www.health.state.mn.us/ and search for “healthy eating during COVID-19.”)

Parents and caregivers should follow the health department’s advice to limit children’s sugary beverages to one a week or less. Children could have a healthier – and longer – life because of it.

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