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Survey reveals NE parentsí views on alcohol and childhood

What's the Harm? campaign

Alcohol before 18 - What's the harm?

Posted 14/10/19

Three quarters of North East parents think it’s important to talk to children about alcohol by the age of 14. And 6/10 don’t think it is acceptable to give children a sip of alcohol before the age of 15.

The latest survey findings from Balance come as the North East plays host tomorrow (Tuesday 15 Oct) to a major conference exploring the issues around children, teenagers and alcohol and the global pressures the young generation is under to drink.

The “Alcohol Free Childhood – Global Pressures to Local Action” conference is being held in Newcastle with attendance from around 130 professionals working in health, local authorities, children’s services and police.

Figures from NHS Digital[i] show that 1 in 10 children 11-15 are drinking regularly in the North East (around 15,000 pupils) and the number one source of alcohol is the family home. Girls are more likely to drink than boys and children from more affluent families are more likely to drink.

The conference is set to explore the global pressures on children, such as social media and how alcohol companies have been exposed for blasting out advertising messages online to under-age drinkers using paid influencer role models, teaching them that drinking is cool.

Chief Medical Officer guidelines are clear that children should drink no alcohol before the age of 15 but an alcohol free childhood to the age of 18 is the best and safest option, with alcohol linked to health problems, and accidents and with children’s brains still developing until their 20s.

The survey from Balance also found that 9/10 North East parents would be angry if another parent or adult they knew gave their child alcohol without their permission.

Expert speakers will be exploring some of the key issues around young people and alcohol, including: the “Wild West” of social media and how alcohol companies blast out advertising messages online to under-age drinkers, teaching them that drinking is cool.

It will also explore the impact of sports sponsorship and merchandising and the issues faced by children living with dependent drinkers.

Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, said: “Despite a reduction in the numbers of children drinking, hundreds of 11-15 year olds in the region consume alcohol on a weekly basis, putting themselves at risk of both short and long-term harm. Balance is working with parents to provide them with the tools to protect their children and to show them that, despite what they might think, a childhood free from alcohol is possible.”

Alice Wiseman, Director of Public Health for Gateshead Council and DPH lead for alcohol in the North East, said: “More of our children are choosing not to drink alcohol and as parents and professionals we need to do everything in our power to encourage that trend and support our kids in making healthy decisions.

“But we also need to be aware of the wider pressures children face. Alcohol is significantly more affordable than three decades ago, the alcohol industry is finding new ways to target young people through sport and social media and our children are acutely aware of their advertising. At the same time many alcohol companies are completely failing to communicate the guidelines or the risks.”

The Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England 2018 is a major nationwide survey monitoring smoking, drinking and drug use among secondary school pupils aged 11 to 15. Published in August this year, the 2018 survey shows:


• Around 11% of pupils aged 11-15 had drunk alcohol in the North East in the week before the survey – around 15,000 pupils. This has fallen from 12% in 2016, meaning the North East is no longer the highest region but the fourth highest.


• 9% of boys aged 11-15 had drunk alcohol in the previous week in 2018 compared to 12% in 2016 when the North East was the worst area in the country. The NE is now the 5th highest – lower even than the South East.


• 14% of girls aged 11-15 had drunk alcohol in the last week – an increase from 12% in 2016 and the joint highest in England. Girls are also more likely to drink wine and spirits than boys.


And that nationally:


• 1 in 10 (9%) of pupils aged 11-15 had been drunk in the previous four weeks, which would equate to an estimated 12,200 pupils in the North East. Of these, the most common adverse consequence reported was feeling ill or sick (40%) and 23% had vomited.


• One in five pupils (18%) thought it was OK to get drunk once a week.
• Pupils who obtained alcohol in the last four weeks were most likely to have been given it by parents or guardians (71%). Other common sources were to be given it by friends (49%), or to take it from home with permission (48%).


• Children from affluent families – and families where parents and siblings drink – are more likely to drink.


• Pupils who lived with people who drank alcohol were more likely to drink alcohol themselves.


• Drinking alcohol was also a risk factor in pupils starting to smoke.


Conference speakers include:


• Alice Wiseman, Director of Public Health at Gateshead Council
• Colin Shevills Director of Balance – What’s the Harm’? The case for an alcohol free childhood


• Dr Nathan Critchlow, University of Stirling – “Our youth on the front line: What we know about where young people see alcohol marketing and the effect it has”
• Dr Eric Carlin, Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) – Focus on Youth, Football and Alcohol


• Professor David Jernigan, Boston University – Building blocks for an alcohol-free childhood: international evidence and policy developments concerning alcohol marketing


However – there’s some evidence that fewer children are drinking than ever before. A report by Sheffield University in Sept 2018 shows a sharp decline in youth drinking across all age groups over the last 15 years, with the % of 16-17 year olds binge drinking within the last week falling from 30 per cent in 2002 to just six per cent in 2016.

[i] Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England 2018