Drinking amongst children and young people; one of the most frequently discussed alcohol policy topics - and arguably with good reason. Children who drink are at significant risk of alcohol harms both in terms of their immediate and longer term health and wellbeing, yet significant falls in consumption have been seen in recent years.
Public Health England (PHE) have responded to the recent proliferation of data and hypothesising with a new 'data and intelligence summary', with a supporting blog by PHE's national director Kevin Fenton. The blog highlights that whilst there has been a 26% fall from 1990 to 2014 in the number of 11-15 year olds who had tried alcohol [38% in 2014], by the age of 17 half of all girls and almost two-thirds of boys drink alcohol every week. Additionally consumption among young people in the UK is also higher than the European average and the decline in drinking among 11 to 15 year olds appears to be starting to level off with girls.
The data and intelligence briefing summarises the range of data sources giving indications of consumption and harms, also showing declines in young people's hospital admissions and treatment services access. However important nuances lie behind the headline trends including regional, ethnic and deprivation figures.
Other specific figures may also still be a cause for concern. In the 2014 Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England of those 11-15 year olds who drank in the last week (8%), over a fifth (22%) drank 15 or more units during the week. A small group, but highly likely to experience significant harm, and and around half had drank 6 or more units. The briefing doesn't reference a recent Drinkaware report exploring children and parents attitudes and experiences of alcohol.
Fenton states 'there is no room for complacency and we must continue to communicate the current advice from the Chief Medical Officer that an alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option.' The data briefing concludes that 'professionals from health, education, social care and youth justice agencies need to be able to identify, assess and, where necessary, appropriately refer young people experiencing alcohol-related problems'.
Indeed many expect younger people's consumption may well start to creep up again as adult drinking appears to be. A recent IAS report though suggests the main drivers behind the recent falls have been pressures on income as well as improvements in parenting. Uncertainties over the economy and the difficulty in predicting whether other influences will factor in the future mean no one can be certain. Regardless, groups such as Alcohol Concern continue to call for better protection of children and young people particularly from widespread advertising and cheap alcohol.
Further alcohol-related reports and guidance related to children and young people can be found here on the Alcohol Learning Centre, including the CMO guidance. See here a post on IBA for young people.