England sees ‘sharp decline’ in youth drinking

The last 15 years have seen a ‘sharp decline’ in drinking levels among young people in England, according to a new report from the University of Sheffield’s Alcohol Research Group. Young people are now ‘less likely to drink and, if they do drink, they start doing so later, drink less often and consume smaller amounts’, it says.

A decline in youth drinking raises questions for alcohol policy.

The study – which was funded by the Wellcome Trust – looked at age groups from 8-24 and found a ‘consistent pattern’ of reduced participation in drinking and consumption levels, and ‘less positive attitudes’ towards alcohol.

The proportion of 11-15 year-olds who had consumed a full alcoholic drink fell from 61 to 44 per cent between 2002 and 2016, while the proportion of 8-12 year-olds fell from 25 to 4 per cent. The proportion of 16-17 year-olds who had drunk over the previous year also fell from 88 to 65 per cent between 2001 and 2016, and among 16-24 year-olds the proportion fell from 90 to 78 per cent.

Young people who do drink are also drinking less, and less often, says the document, with the proportion of 16-24 year-olds who had drunk in the last week falling from 76 to 60 per cent between 2002 and 2016, with a fall from 35 to 9 per cent among 11-15 year-olds.

‘It may be that increases in internet use and online gaming are changing the way young people spend their leisure time,’ said lead author Dr Melissa Oldham. ‘Economic factors may also play a role – concern about increasing university tuition fees and the cost of housing means young people feel they have less disposable income to spend on alcohol.’

The decline in youth drinking raises ‘important questions about the direction of future alcohol policy’, says the report. ‘For example, will future youth drinking be spread across society or concentrated in specific high-risk groups, do the policy platforms of public, private and third sector organisations require updating and are new interventions needed to reinforce and perpetuate the positive trends? To date, there has been little public debate on these questions.’

Meanwhile the Welsh Government has launched a consultation on its proposed minimum unit price of 50p. The Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Act 2018 was passed the country’s National Assembly in June, received Royal Assent in August (DDN, September, page 5), and is set to come into force next summer.

The aim of the law was to protect the health of ‘hazardous and harmful drinkers’ who consume larger quantities of low-cost, high-strength products, said health secretary Vaughan Gething. ‘The higher the level of MUP that is chosen, the greater the proportion of purchased alcohol that is captured and the greater the estimated impact on alcohol-related harms. However, there is a trade-off, as there is also a greater impact on moderate drinkers, particularly moderate drinkers in the more deprived groups.’

Youth drinking in decline – report here

Consultation here

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