Medical guidance being published for the consultation today by Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, recommends that young people up to the age of 15 should avoid alcohol altogether.
However, the harsh reality is that by the age of 15 many young people will have already consumed alcohol, often drinking weekly. Just under one in five 11 - 14 year olds in Lincolnshire admitted in an Ofsted survey they have been drunk once or twice before (Ofsted Tell Us3 survey 2008), and nearly a quarter of 11 - 15 year olds in England claimed to get alcohol from their parents (NHS Information Centre).
The five-point guidance document will form part of a consultation on alcohol and young people launched by Children Schools and Families Secretary, Ed Balls, Health Secretary, Alan Johnson, and the Chief Medical Officers of the UK. The consultation is available online.
The guidance was a commitment in the Youth Alcohol Action Plan, launched in June last year and responds to calls from parents for clear messages on the health effects and risks of young people drinking alcohol.
The Chief Medical Officers' Guidance on the Consumption of Alcohol by Children and Young People advises:
- Children and their parents and carers are advised that an alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option. However, if children drink alcohol, it should not be until at least the age of 15 years.
- If young people aged 15 to 17 years consume alcohol, it should always be with the guidance of a parent or carer or in a supervised environment.
- Parents and young people should be aware that drinking, even at age 15 or older, can be hazardous to health and that not drinking is the healthiest option for young people. If 15 to 17 year olds do consume alcohol they should do so infrequently and certainly on no more than one day a week. Young people aged 15 to 17 years should never exceed recommended adult daily limits and on days when they drink, consumption should usually be below such levels.
- The importance of parental influences on children's alcohol use should be communicated to parents, carers and professionals. Parents and carers require advice on how to respond to alcohol use and misuse by children.
- Support services must be available for children and young people who have alcohol related problems and their parents
Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer for England, led the development of the guidance, following extensive research and work with a panel of experts who reviewed the latest available medical evidence and data from across the UK on the impact of alcohol and young people.
"This guidance aims to support parents, give them the confidence to set boundaries and to help them engage with young people about drinking and risks associated with it.
"More than 10,000 children end up in hospital every year due to drinking and research tells us that 15 per cent of young people think it is normal to get drunk at least once a week. They are putting themselves at risk of liver damage, depression and problems with brain development and memory. Resulting social issues can lead to children doing less well at school and struggling to interact with friends and family."
Children, Schools and Families Secretary, Ed Balls, said:
"Parents have told us that they lack the health information and advice they need to make decisions about whether or how their children should be introduced to alcohol. So I hope the Chief Medical Officer's advice will help them with the tricky task of deciding the best way of doing that.
"We want this advice and information to be a success and really help families. That's why we're asking young people, parents and all those interested for their views. I think all of us as parents need to look at this advice, see whether it's right for us and ask whether we are doing the best thing for our children.
"Alcohol is a part of our national culture and if managed responsibly can have a positive influence in social circumstances. However when it is not managed responsibly, or causes harm to children it can cause real problems.
"That's why the Chief Medical Officer's guidance sets out a clear rationale for parents about the implications of children drinking under the age of 15. We hope that it will help parents to set realistic boundaries for their children and also help them to introduce alcohol to young people as they get older."
The consultation will run for 12 weeks and will seek the views of young people, carers, parents and other interested parties.
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