England records large decline in teenage drinking

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Teenage drinking has declined more dramatically in England than many other European countries, new research shows.

A large reduction in weekly alcohol use among adolescents was observed between 2002 and 2014 in the majority of the 36 countries featured in a World Health Organisation (WHO) report.

The largest decline in prevalence for both boys and girls was in England, where spirit and beer consumption has also fallen significantly.

The WHO report, which examines alcohol-related behaviour among 15-year-olds in Europe, was led by researchers at the University of St Andrews.

More than half (50.3%) of teenage boys in England drank weekly in 2002, compared with just 10% in 2014, the research found.

Wales had the second largest drop in prevalence for boys, from 47.6% to 11.8% across the same period.

More than two in five (43.1%) girls in England drank alcohol weekly in 2002, falling to fewer than one in 10 (8.9%) in 2014.

This was the largest decline for girls across the 36 countries, followed by Scotland which saw prevalence drop from 41.1% to 10.7%.

Dr Jo Inchley, lead editor of the report, said: “Overall reductions in harmful drinking have been greatest in countries that traditionally have had higher prevalence, such as Great Britain and the Nordic region.

“This makes it clear that change is possible; however, more should be done to ensure that adolescents are effectively protected from the harms caused by alcohol.”

The largest decreases in beer consumption were observed among 15-year-old boys in Wales, Denmark and England.

Almost two in five (39.7%) boys in England drank beer weekly in 2002, compared with just 7.6% in 2014.

The largest decline in spirit drinking was among teenagers in England, Scotland and Denmark, the report said.

Almost a third (32.8%) of boys and girls in England drank spirits weekly in 2002, dropping to 4.1% by 2014.

Meanwhile, only 28.1% of teenagers said they had been drunk two or more times in their life in 2014.

This compares with more than half (54.9%) 12 years previously.

Across the region, 9% of girls and 16% of boys were regular weekly drinkers by the age of 15 in 2014, the report found.

Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, regional director for WHO Europe, said: “Young people are regular drinkers at an age where they should not be drinking at all.

“As we know that any alcohol consumption at this critical developmental stage in life is especially harmful, policy-makers have a responsibility to implement the measures we know are effective, such as limiting access, enforcing age checks and restricting any type of alcohol marketing, including digital marketing.”

Karen Tyrell, executive director at drug and alcohol charity Addaction said: “It’s great that young people are drinking less but it doesn’t mean they’re thriving.”

She added: “Other warning lights are flashing and we need to pay attention to growing problems like self-harm, substances, and poor mental health.

“In many areas it’s harder than ever for young people to get help. There are fewer places to turn and the help that’s there often isn’t good enough.”

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