Alcohol consumption among teens continues to fall

England has seen a dramatic decrease in drinking among adolescents compared to many other European countries, according to new research conducted by the World Health Organisation and led by the University of St Andrews.

Friends drinking beer at sunset

The WHO report, Adolescent alcohol-related behaviours: trends and inequalities in the WHO European Region, 2002–2014, which examines alcohol-related behaviour among 15-year-olds in Europe, and was led by researchers at the University of St Andrews.

A significant 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.

Overall, 28% of adolescents said that they started drinking alcohol at age 13 or younger (25% of girls and 31% of boys) in 2014. This has fallen from 46% in 2002, with downward trends similar in magnitude for boys and girls in most countries.

While some countries saw no change at all, or only very small decreases, since 2002, the largest decline for drinking alcohol on a regular basis for both boys and girls was in England.

More than half (50.3%) of teenage boys in England drank weekly in 2002, compared with just 10% 2014, the research found. Wales had the second largest drop in prevalence for boys, from 47.6% to 11.8% across the same period.

With girls, 43.1% 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.

Despite the level of alcohol consumption declining among adolescents across Europe. However, the report stated that levels of consumption “remain dangerously high” branding it a major public health concern. Across Europe, 9% of girls and 16% of boys were regular weekly drinkers by the age of 15 in 2014, the report found.

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

“Although the WHO European Region has already reached the target of a 10% reduction as set out in the noncommunicable disease framework for 2025, much more can be achieved to prevent the devastating impact of alcohol on premature death and disability.”

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