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Survey: Minn. students reduce risky behavior, but 1 in 5 show depression

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School cafeteria
St. Cloud Technical High School, shown here on April 13, 2016, displays banners with student behavior expectations in the school cafeteria.
Solveig Wastvedt | MPR News

Minnesota students said they were more engaged in school and decreased risky behaviors, according to results from the 2016 Minnesota Student Survey, but the data also show some racial disparities in bullying and high teen depression.

The survey is a voluntary, anonymous questionnaire given to 5th, 8th, 9th and 11th graders. Topics include health habits, attitudes toward school, mental health and substance abuse.

According to the 2016 survey results, more students say they care about doing well in school most or all of the time, compared to the last time the survey was given in 2013. The state education department says bullying is also down for 8th, 9th and 11th graders.

Bullying was up for 5th graders, though, and bullying numbers showed racial gaps. About a quarter of white 5th graders said they'd been physically bullied in the last 30 days, compared to about a third of their black and American Indian peers. Black and Asian, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students were more likely than other racial groups to report bullying over their race, ethnicity, or national origin.

The state health department said tobacco, marijuana and alcohol use has decreased since 2013. Electronic cigarettes appear much more popular for 11th graders than other kinds of tobacco — about 17 percent reported using electronic cigarettes in the past 30 days.

"[This year's survey] 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," Minnesota Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said in a statement.

About one in five students surveyed showed signs of depression, according to health and education department press releases. Almost a third of 9th and 11th graders identifying as transgender or gender minority said they had ever attempted suicide, a much higher rate than for non-transgender students.

Education officials said almost 169,000 students and 85.5 percent of Minnesota school districts participated in the 2016 survey.