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Under 15s ‘should not drink alcohol’

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Children under 15 should not drink any alcohol, the British Government’s chief medical officer said.

Sir Liam Donaldson said the new advice was based on research which showed the serious damage drink could do to children’s health.

And he warned that a "massive number" of young people drank routinely in the UK.

He said: "We have a third of a million 11–15 years old on a typical weekend drinking alcohol.

"That’s a massive number and we’ve got to do something about it."

Sir Liam told GMTV the new advice was aimed at clearing up confusion among parents about the issue.

"The information we got from surveying parents was that actually they are quite confused about the medical and health implications of children drinking alcohol."

He said research said drink could seriously affect brain development in the young.

"We’re trying to get the message across that children aged under 15 are still developing, their brains are developing, and drinking alcohol can do some quite serious damage.

"The Government guidelines also advise that children aged 15 to 17 should not drink without the supervision of a parent or carer."

Sir Liam said research had shown the importance of the family in fostering healthy attitudes to alcohol in children.

"Families which draw clear boundaries, which establish values, which don’t bring children into drink-fuelled environments, are families where children are more likely to grow up not drinking at all, or drinking responsibly," he said.

The Government said the guidance, which was open to consultation and could be changed, was not about making Britain a nanny state.

It said it wanted to "empower" parents by giving them information to make good decisions concerning their children.

Such advice is the first produced for parents in England about the risks of young people drinking alcohol.

The guidelines were launched by Children’s Secretary Ed Balls and Health Secretary Alan Johnson.

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said he shared the Government’s concerns about the number of children who drank alcohol.

"I actually feel very strongly about the scale of the problem we’ve got.

"The binge drinking culture where children go out and get smashed is very worrying and I think sometimes they get mixed messages from their parents, which is very difficult," he said.

Figures show that by the time they are 15, most young people in the UK have drunk alcohol.

About one in five 13-year-old says they drink at least every week and that figure doubles among 15-year-olds.

An estimated 630,000 children aged 11 to 17 in the UK drink more than once a week and around one in five 15-year-olds say they first got drunk when they were 13 or younger, according to Government figures.

By the age of 13, just over 20% say they have been drunk at least twice, increasing to almost half of all 15-year-olds.

Figures also show that the amount children drink has risen since 1990.

More than one in 10 (11%) boys and 12% of girls aged 15 to 16 have been drunk at least six times in the last month.

Government evidence shows that children who drink are more likely to not use condoms, have sex at a young age, become pregnant and catch sexually transmitted infections.

(Source: Mental Health Foundation UK: February 2009)

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Posted On: 17 February, 2009
Modified On: 16 January, 2014


Created by: myVMC