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Last Updated: Friday, 26 August 2005, 14:24 GMT 15:24 UK
Girls catch boys in booze stakes
Girl drinking
Girls are more likely to get drunk than boys
The proportion of girls drinking alcohol has reached the level of boys for the first time, a survey shows.

The study found 23% of both boys and girls had drunk alcohol in the previous week in 2004 - a drop for both compared to 2003, but a greater fall for boys.

The government-commissioned survey of 11 to 15-year-olds in England also revealed half of girls who had alcohol got drunk, while 42% of boys did.

The Department of Health said it was determined to tackle youth drinking.

While the proportion of children drinking has fallen, it is the first time since the surveys began in 1988 that girls have caught up to boys.

We have one of the worst rates of child drinking in the world
Professor Martin Plant, addiction expert

The period has also seen a rise in the average amount consumed by child drinkers.

In 1990 those who did drink consumed 5.3 units a week, but by 2004 that had soared to 10.7 units - the equivalent to five pints of lager.

Researchers said cider, lager, alcopops and spirits were the most popular drinks.

The survey also looked at smoking and drug-taking levels. One in 10 children smoked regularly - no change from the previous year - while 18% had taken drugs in the last year - a fall of 3%.

The report comes after recent Office for National Statistics figures showed the number of alcohol-related deaths in England and Wales had risen by nearly a fifth in the last four years.

Child drinking

Martin Plant, professor of addiction studies at the University of the West of England, questioned whether the government was right to relax the drinking laws - from November pubs and licensed premises will be allowed to open longer if apply.

Professor Plant said: "We have one of the worst rates of child drinking in the world.

"The problem is being created by cheap and freely available alcohol, are the changes in drinking laws really the way forward?"

He also warned we should not ignore the fact that children are smoking, saying the health impacts were greater than those for alcohol.

Shadow Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Theresa May said the figures showed the UK's binge drinking culture was only going to get worse.

And Liberal Democrat health spokesman Steve Webb said the government was failing to tackle the problem, but added parents needed to take responsibility too.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said measures had been taken to combat youth drinking and the findings would be fed into government policy.

But she added the fall in the proportion of school children drinking was positive.

"This is a step in the right direction but we know that there is more to do."




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Teenagers speak about their drink and drug habits



SEE ALSO:
Surge in alcohol-related deaths
15 Aug 05 |  England
Opposition plan to halt drink law
11 Aug 05 |  UK Politics
Alcohol 'as harmful as smoking'
04 Feb 05 |  Health


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