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Children drinking more than adult safe levels, official figures show

Children as young as 11 are drinking two bottles of wine a week – more than the recommended limit for an adult woman – official figures reveal.

The data, based on surveys of over 23,000 children in England, showed boys drank more than girls in almost all regions

Children in the north of the country drink and smoke more than those in the south, data from the NHS Information Centre has found.

In particular, girls aged between 11 and 15 in the Midlands and the North are drinking more than the recommended limits for adult women.

They are consuming around a bottle and a half of wine a week.

Adult women are advised not to drink more than two to three units a day (or up to 14 units a week) and men not more than three to four (or up to 21 units a week) with two alcohol free days a week.

Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer, said last year that parents should not let their children drink alcohol at all.

More than one in four girls in the North East had a drink in the past week and on average consumed 15.5 units. Girls in the East Midlands, North West and Yorkshire and Humber drank similar amounts.

The pattern was less clear for boys but in general those in the Midlands and the North were more likely to have drunk in the last week than those in the south and to have consumed more.

More than one in four boys in the North East had a drink in the last week and on average drank 20.2 units, the equivalent of eight and a half pints of strong lager or more than two bottles of wine.

Boys and girls in London were the least likely to drink and average consumption of those who did was also lower.

The data, based on surveys of over 23,000 children in England, showed boys drank more than girls in almost all regions.

It is the first time that alcohol consumption for children aged 11 to 15 has been calculated by region.

Previous studies have shown that fewer children are drinking alcohol but those who do consume large amounts.

On smoking children in the north of the country were more likely to have smoked a cigarette in the last year than those in the south and were more likely to smoke regularly.

Children in all of the regions were less likely to have tried drugs than cigarettes or alcohol.

A fifth of 11 to 15 year olds in the North West had taken drugs in the last year compared with around one in seven in the South West.

One in eight children in the North West said they had taken cannabis in the last year compared with one in 12 in the North East.

Tim Straughan, Chief executive of The NHS Information Centre, said: “The report shows there are significant regional differences in the percentages of young people who smoke, drink or use drugs.

“It is interesting to note that London has such comparatively low levels of drink, drug and alcohol use among its 11 to 15-year-olds.

“In contrast, youngsters in the North East are more likely than their peers anywhere else in the country to smoke and drink alcohol. However, they are the least likely to take cannabis.”

Don Shenker, Chief Executive of Alcohol Concern, said: “Today’s figures are very worrying. We’ve seeing a slight decline in the number of children who drink, but those who do drink are drinking much more.

“Too many young people are now drinking at or above safe adult levels, yet their bodies are less able to cope with the harm alcohol can cause.

“We’ve already seen an almost one thousand per cent increase in liver cirrhosis deaths in the 25-44 age group. This is impacting our health services and the lives of families across the UK.”

He said the government must heed advice and opt for minimum pricing of alcohol which would mean it could not be bought at pocket money prices.

Professor Ian Gilmore, President of the Royal College of Physicians and Chairman of the UK Alcohol Health Alliance said:“These figures indicate that for many young teenagers drinking has moved beyond experimentation and into far more dangerous territory.

“Regular consumption at these levels, especially when compressed into heavy sessions at the weekend puts boys and girls at considerable risk.

“At this age the adolescent mind is still developing, and for an unlucky minority heavy drinking so early will have profound and long lasting implications for their learning and problem solving skills. Tougher penalties for those found to be selling alcohol to youngsters are welcome, but parents and families also have a responsibility to help their offspring make healthy choices.”

Children’s Minister Dawn Primarolo said: “I am pleased that these statistics show a decline in the number of young people smoking, drinking alcohol and taking drugs.

“The Government has been committed to providing young people with the right advice and support they need to make safe and sensible decisions. Importantly we have given parents, carers and schools additional guidance and expert advice so that young people can turn to a trusted adult to discuss their concerns about smoking, drinking and drugs.”

source: The Telegraph

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