Survey: Fewer young Minnesotans smoking, drinking

Alcohol use
Ninth graders reporting that they drank alcohol one or more times in the past 30 days continues to fall.
Graphic courtesy of the Minnesota Dept. of Education

Fewer young Minnesotans are taking part in risky behaviors than in years past, according to the latest Minnesota Student Survey.

Last year, more than 160,000 students in grades 5, 8, 9 and 11 took part in the survey, which covered a wide range of topics from smoking, drinking and sexual behavior to how much students work. It also asked students if they had been bullied and how often they send text messages.

Among the findings was that 14.2 percent of ninth-grade students drank alcohol one or more times in the 30 days before the survey, down from 18.6 percent in 2010, the last time students in that grade were surveyed.

Sheila Oehrlein, who supervises the Minnesota Department of Education's safe and healthy learners team, said overall the results are positive.

"Many of the sort of risky things that the student survey measures like drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes or using marijuana in the last 30 days, every time we administer the survey fewer kids are saying they've done that," Oehrlein said.

The survey found more than 90 percent of all students surveyed feel safe in school, a number that's stayed steady over the last decade.

But the results also show as many as 12 percent of students have faced bullying in the last 30 days because of their race or sexual orientation, while one in four say they were bullied because of their weight or appearance.

The survey's methodology changed in ways that make it difficult to compare some of the latest results to previous years. From 1992 to 2010, the state surveyed 6th, 9th and 12th graders. In 2013 that changed to 5th, 8th, 9th and 11th graders.

Also, the 2013 report doesn't include students from Minneapolis, where district officials opted out of the voluntary survey.

Oehrlein said researchers don't believe that skewed the results, because several Minneapolis charter schools and the St. Paul school district, took part in the survey.

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