Page last updated at 12:59 GMT, Wednesday, 27 January 2010

North East youngsters 'drink and smoke the most'

Teenager drinking
Boys and girls are equally likely to drink alcohol

Young people aged 11 to 15 in London drink and smoke substantially less than some of their contemporaries in the north of England, NHS data shows.

Those in the North East reported the highest levels of both drinking and regular smoking in surveys carried out over the past three years.

But total proportions of youngsters regularly consuming alcohol and cigarettes are on the wane.

The prevalence of drug use among this age group has also declined.

With 20% of 11 to 15-year-olds admitting to taking drugs in the past year, the North West had the highest rates, while the South West - at 15% - the lowest, the NHS Information Centre reported from surveys of 8,000 pupils over three years.

Overall however young people in the North East were the least likely to have taken cannabis.

2006-2008 numbers who:
Regularly smoked: 7.3%
Drank in last week: 20.3%
Took drugs in last year: 16.7%

But more than a quarter surveyed in this area had drunk alcohol in the last week, closely followed by Yorkshire and Humber. This compared with 12% in London.

The quantities consumed also varied substantially: youngsters in the North East who had drunk recently had consumed on average just under 18 units - the equivalent of two bottles of wine - while those in London had drunk about 11 units - just over a bottle.

Lighting up going down

But overall rates of regular drinking have started to fall - some 21% said they had drunk in the last week in 2006 compared with 18% in 2008.

Similar trends are seen with smoking, with fewer young people even trying cigarettes. The numbers of regular smokers in this age group - youngsters who smoked more than one cigarette each week - fell from 9% in 2006 to 6% between 2007 and 2008. It is girls who are more likely to smoke.

"The report shows there are significant regional differences in the percentages of young people who smoke, drink and use drugs," said the head of the NHS Information Centre, Tim Straughan.

"It is interesting to note that London has such comparatively low levels of drink, drug and alcohol use among its 11 to 15-year-olds. In contrast, youngsters in the North East are more likely than their peers anywhere else in the country to smoke and drink alcohol. However, they are the least likely to take cannabis."

The reasons for this regional variation are not explored by the report, but a host of factors from cultural differences to fewer recreational options - be it as a result of poor public transport or a lack of venues - have been highlighted.

Professor Mark Bellis of Liverpool John Moores University said: "We do know that there are regional variations, but anything which adds to that picture is a bonus as it strengthens the chance of more effective interventions.

"We also need to be wary of prematurely celebrating suggestions that overall percentages of youngsters drinking have dropped - what matters is how much those who are drinking consume. A few young people drinking a lot is worse in health terms than more drinking less."

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