England has highest global rate of child alcohol consumption

England tops the global league table for alcohol consumption among children, according to a WHO-commissioned report from the University of Glasgow. 

teens drinking and smoking
More than half of 15-year-old girls and two-fifths boys drunk alcohol during the last month

The country had the highest lifetime use of alcohol among 11-year-olds – at 35 per cent of boys and 34 per cent of girls – as well as the highest rate among 13-year-olds (50 per cent of boys and 57 per cent of girls). Denmark had the highest prevalence for 15-year-olds, meanwhile, at 83 per cent for boys and 84 per cent for girls. 

Researchers studied data from almost 280,000 children and young people across 44 countries to find trends in adolescent substance use. Alcohol was the most commonly used substance, but vaping was now more common than smoking among young people, the document states. More than half of 15-year-olds in Europe had drunk alcohol, while one in five had recently used e-cigarettes. 

While England had the highest rate of lifetime alcohol use among 11 and 13-year-olds, more than half of 15-year-old girls and two-fifths of 15-year-old boys had drunk alcohol during the last month. ‘Compared with other European countries, rates of drunkenness in the UK were high, particularly among girls,’ researchers state. 

Smoking prevalence was also higher among girls than boys in England and Wales. Almost a tenth of 11-year-olds in England had tried an e-cigarette at least once, rising to more than a quarter of 15-year-old boys and 40 per cent of 15-year-old girls. Thirty per cent of 15-yearl-old girls in England and Scotland, and 27 per cent in Wales, had vaped during the last 30 days. One in five 15-year-olds in the UK had also tried cannabis at least once. 

Dr Sabina Hulbert
Dr Sabina Hulbert

‘English boys and girls aged 11 and 13 are the ones reporting the highest levels of lifetime alcohol consumption in all the countries surveyed,’ said Dr Sabina Hulbert of Kent University. ‘With figures on the rise, especially for girls, we urge our policy makers to make immediate changes to the clearly ineffective measures that are currently in place to protect our young generations from harm.’

‘It’s clearly concerning that England has some of the highest rates of children drinking in Europe,’ added Dr Katherine Severi of the Institute of Alcohol Studies. ‘People tend to have this perception that introducing children to moderate drinking is a good way of teaching them safer drinking habits. This is untrue. The earlier a child drinks, the more likely they are to develop problems with alcohol in later life.’

A focus on adolescent substance use in Europe, central Asia and Canada: Health behaviour in school-aged children international report from the 2021/2022 survey at https://iris.who.int/handle/10665/376573

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