Page last updated at 19:51 GMT, Thursday, 26 March 2009

UK youths among worst for drink

drunken girl in street
The study says it is no longer socially unacceptable for girls to be drunk

British teenagers are the third worst binge drinkers in Europe and their alcohol abuse is causing serious illnesses, a report has found.

More than half of 15 and 16-year-olds admitted regularly drinking to excess, the research by the University of the West of England revealed.

Only those in Denmark and the Isle of Man fared worse out of 35 nations.

Prof Martin Plant, who led the study, said a minimum price for alcohol of 50p per unit would save 3,000 lives a year.

The government's top medical adviser, Sir Liam Donaldson, has drawn up plans for a similar minimum price for alcohol which would double the cost of some drinks in England.

Prof Plant said doctors are treating patients at an ever-younger age for serious complaints like liver sclerosis and psychiatric problems.

Many were dying prematurely as a result, he added.

TOP FIVE BINGE-DRINK NATIONS
Denmark: 49%
Isle of Man: 35%
UK: 33%
Austria: 31%
Ireland: 26%
Source: European School Survey Project on Alcohol (Teenagers aged 15 and 16 who admitted being drunk in last 30 days).

"There is a clear scientific consensus that alcohol education and mass media campaigns have a very poor track record in influencing drinking habits," he said.

"Far more effective - and cost effective - policies include using taxation to make alcohol less affordable.

"It is therefore recommended that a minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol should be introduced. This would save over 3,000 lives per year."

The study recorded how many youngsters admitted being drunk in the month before they were interviewed.

The figures, from 2007, also showed UK girls are more likely to get drunk than boys.

The UK sample included 1,004 boys and 1,175 girls.

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A teenager on her drinking habits - extract from BBC School Report. Whole report at www.bbc.co.uk/schoolreport

Young People's Minister Delyth Morgan said the problem was known and was already being tackled.

"We have not ruled out taking action on very cheap alcohol - it's clearly linked to people drinking more and the subsequent harm to their health," Baroness Morgan said.

Marketing practices

"Any decisions we make will take into account the wider economic impact during this difficult time and it would not be right to penalise the overwhelming majority of responsible drinkers," she added.

"The challenge now is to target those young people who are drinking more often."

The government had published advice on the harm to health of alcohol and intended to make drug and alcohol education statutory.

The report said: "It is clearly no longer socially unacceptable for females to drink heavily or to become intoxicated.

"This may reflect factors such as greater female social and economic empowerment and changing social roles as well as the marketing practices of the beverage alcohol industry."

The study - the most detailed of its kind - also found high levels of relationship, delinquency and sex problems in the UK amongst 15 and 16-year-olds.

Cigarette use by European teenagers has fallen since 1999 - and in the UK since 1995, it added.

Some 11% of UK teenagers also reported having used cannabis in the 30 days prior to the survey.



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