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Allowing children to drink occasionally may prevent problems later, says study

Parents who allow school-age children to drink occasionally may be protecting them from alcohol damage, violence and sexual danger, a health study published today suggests.

The survey of almost 10,000 15- to 16-year-olds’ drinking patterns in north-west England by researchers at the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University found that enforcing abstinence within the family may push youngsters out into more dangerous environments and increase the risk of excessive drinking.

“Our results … suggest that those parents who allow children aged 15-16 years to drink may limit harm by restricting consumption to lower frequencies (eg no more than once a week) and under no circumstances permitting binge drinking,” the researchers conclude in a paper in the BMC Public Health journal.

The study appears to support the traditional assertion that parents who permit children to have the occasional – and supervised – glass of wine are teaching them how to control social drinking at safe levels of consumption.

The study reported that the “proportions of drinkers having experienced violence when drunk [was] (28.8%), [having] alcohol-related regretted sex (12.5%) and forgetting things (45.3%) …”

Those negative experiences increased in proportion to the frequency of drinking, the frequency of binge-drinking and the number of units consumed a week.

Drinking with the family was safer, according to the researchers.

“At similar levels of consumption, experiencing any negative alcohol-related outcome was lower in those whose parents provided alcohol,” the paper says. It adds: “There is no safe level of alcohol consumption for 15- to 16-year-olds. However, while abstinence removes risk of harms from personal alcohol consumption, its promotion may also push children into accessing drink outside family environments and contribute to higher risks of harm.

“Strategies to reduce alcohol-related harms in children should ensure bingeing is avoided entirely, address the excessively low cost of many alcohol products, and tackle the ease with which it can be accessed, especially outside of supervised environments.”

The research is published in the week that the Conservative party promised to raise taxes on super-strength lagers, cider and alcopops in an attempt to combat drink-related violence.

The Liverpool researchers also backed the need for price controls.

“Parental efforts should be matched by genuine legislative and enforcement activity to reduce independent access to alcohol by children,” their paper noted, “and examination of costs per unit and bottle sizes to discourage large bottle purchases.

“While these measures are unlikely to eradicate the negative effects of alcohol on children, they may reduce them substantially while allowing children to prepare themselves for life in an adult environment dominated by this drug.”

source: The Guardian

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