Page last updated at 00:01 GMT, Thursday, 17 December 2009

Parents giving children alcohol 'fuels binge drinking'

By Martin Hutchinson
BBC News

A boy (model) drinking alcohol
Experts are concerned that too many teenagers are drinking

Parents who allow their children alcohol at home may be increasing the chances of future drinking problems, says England's chief medical officer.

Sir Liam Donaldson accused some parents of a "laissez-faire" approach and said letting children taste alcohol to ready them for adulthood was "misguided".

Evidence showed that this could lead to binge drinking in later life, he said.

New official guidance says under-15s should drink no alcohol, with under-18s drinking only under supervision.

Legally, parents and carers can give their children alcohol at home from the age of five onwards.

'Middle-class obsession'

However, Sir Liam described the idea of a glass of watered-down wine for a child as a "middle-class obsession", and criticised the approach among some parents towards their children getting drunk.

Sir Liam Donaldson: "It's very important that adults...drink responsibly"

He said: "Across England, 500,000 children between the ages of 11 to 15 years will have been drunk in the past four weeks.

"The science is clear - drinking, particularly at a young age, a lack of parental supervision, exposing children to drink-fuelled events and failing to engage with them as they grow up are the root causes from which our country's serious alcohol problem has developed."

He added: "The more [children] get a taste for it, the more likely they are to be heavy drinking adults or binge drinkers later in childhood."

He announced a major publicity campaign on the subject in England, which will get under way in January 2010.

Similar advice is expected in Scotland at around the same time. In Wales, a health spokesman said work was already under way to tackle drinking among young people.

One parent tells why she thinks a little alcohol benefits children

The advice was welcomed by alcohol campaign groups, although Alcohol Concern said that the availability of alcohol at "pocket money prices" was a key factor in abuse and should be addressed by ministers.

Sir Liam said that he wanted to address the "ready availability" of cheap alcohol and called on supermarkets and corner shops to "take a stand".

Knighted in 2002
Championed swine flu strategy
Pushed for smoke-free public places
Recommended a minimum alcohol price
Made changes to organ retention/consent post-Alder Hey
Set up the Health Protection Agency

He said that he would be able to "shout louder" about his suggestion for a 50p minimum price for alcohol - rejected by Prime Minister Gordon Brown - after he steps down next year.

Jeremy Todd, chief executive of the parenting charity Parentline Plus, praised the guidelines.

He said: "Parents can have a huge influence on their child's drinking choices.

Parental influence

"Rates of teenage drunkenness are higher amongst both the children of parents who drink to excess and the children of parents who abstain completely.

"Whilst parents have a greater influence on their children's drinking patterns early on, as they grow older their friends have a greater influence.

"It is therefore crucial for parents to talk to their children about alcohol and its effects."

Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians and chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: "We know that adults who drink sensibly tend to pass these habits on and that some families choose to introduce alcohol to their children younger than 15 in a supportive environment."

He stressed that not drinking alcohol at all remained the "healthiest option" for children.

Alison Rogers, chief executive of the British Liver Trust, said: "While Sir Liam's statement is very strong and gives clear clinical guidance, the issues of pocket-money pricing and easy availability of alcohol need to be addressed if it is to have any impact on the life-style choices we are making."

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