Friday, May 8, 2009

In what way are we responsible for our children drinking more?

Interesting research from JRF showing that young men are drinking less. Not what we've been led to believe.

Alcohol consumption in general is up. We average about nine litres of alcohol each a year - up from 4-5 in the 60s and 70s (but still less than the 10-11 we averaged at the start of the 20th century). So if the lads aren't drinking it, who is? The answer is women and older drinkers. It shouldn't be a surprise. We're reading how women are behaving more like men and how older people never grow up all the time.

There is a statistical point here. The Office for National Statistics changed the way it calculated units in drinks in 2007 to reflect the trend to stronger wines and larger glass sizes. This had the effect of increasing the number of women binge drinkers at a stroke.

But this research remains significant not least because of the curiouser - and more worrying finding - that fewer children are drinking but that those who do are drinking much more.

In 1997, about two 11-15 year olds in three had had a proper alcoholic drink. By 2006 barely half had. Quite a fall. Especially when you look at how consumption has rocketed: 11-15 year old boys were consuming an average of fewer than six units/week in 1997. Now it has more than doubled to more than 13. In other words, those youngsters who are drinking are really caning the stuff.

Why? Is it, as JRF suggest, mainly the influence of the home environment? In part, probably. But have we also somewhere along the line demonised drink among the young with the result that it is no longer seen as the everyday lubricant of adult life but as something abhorrent. Has it moved from being a soft drug to a hard one with fewer taking it but all of them addicted? And if so is there a lesson here for health campaigners about oversimplification of the message?

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