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Parents told: Don’t let children drink

UK’s chief medical advisor says under 15s should never be allowed to touch alcohol
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks
3 teenage boys drinking beer

17th December 2009 - Parents have been told that allowing children to drink alcohol, even in moderation, can fuel binge drinking later in life.

The official advice is the work of Sir Liam Donaldson, England’s chief medical officer, who notes that over the last decade “public concern about the impact of alcohol on health and society has steadily mounted”.

Young children drinking

In a forward to new advice on children and alcohol, Sir Liam writes that 20 million units of alcohol are consumed in a week by 11 to 17 year olds in England.

Other key statistics he highlights are:

• By 15 years, most children have drunk alcohol

• Children in England are more likely to drink alcohol than children in many other countries

• 500,000 young people aged 11 to 15 years were drunk in the previous four weeks

• The majority of 15 and 16 year olds (71%) associate alcohol consumption with positive consequences and having fun

• Starting drinking at an early age is associated with higher trends of alcohol dependence in adulthood and a wider range of other adverse consequences


The new guidance says that “Beginning to drink before age 14 is associated with increased health risks, including alcohol-related injuries, involvement in violence, and suicidal thoughts and attempts.”

It adds that drinking from a young age “is also associated with having more sexual partners, pregnancy, using drugs, employment problems, and risky driving behaviours”.

No alcohol

The document says the message to parents, carers and children is that an alcohol-free childhood is the best option. Beyond that it recommends:

• Children should not drink any alcohol until at least the age of 15

• Young people aged 15-17 should only drink with the guidance of a parent or carer, or within a supervised environment

• 15-17 year olds should only drink infrequently and certainly on no more than one day a week

• Parents and young people should be aware that drinking at whatever age can be hazardous to health

Charities welcome guidance

Don Shenker, the Chief Executive of Alcohol Concern, says he welcomes the new guidelines, which he says will “enable parents to be better informed about the health risks under 18s face when drinking. The guidelines will especially help parents who want to establish clear boundaries with their children and clarify that drinking above these guidelines carries increased health risks,” he says.

The British Liver Trust also welcomed the new guidance, saying it would help children grow up with a healthy respect for alcohol. Alison Rogers, the Trust’s Chief Executive, says “we would like to welcome the official recognition of the importance of the parents’ role in establishing sensible drinking patterns for their children and the fact that this guidance provides clear and unambiguous clinically-based advice.”

However, Don Shenker says it’s important to remember there are many factors affecting young people’s drinking other than what parents say. "The easy availability of alcohol at pocket money prices is far more important, and the government should consider getting tough on cheap sales to help tackle underage drinking,” he says.

Proposals to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol in Scotland have been put forward by the Scottish Government.

Reviewed on December 17, 2009

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