Research undertaken by the Centre for Public Health has contributed to the development of national guidance on the consumption of alcohol by children and young people. Systematic reviews conducted on the evidence surrounding young people, alcohol consumption and related harms led to the adoption of specific guidelines recommended by the Chief Medical Officer.
The guidance recommended that an alcohol free childhood is the most desirable option. However, if this cannot be achieved, onset of drinking should be delayed for as long as possible (at least until 15 years of age). Further, that if 15-17 year olds do drink, they should do so only under the supervision of a parent/carer, should not drink more than once a week, and should not exceed the maximum daily units for adults on a regular basis (females: 2-3 units; males: 3-4 units).
Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer for England and the United Kingdom’s Chief Medical Adviser complimented CPH by stating: “I am deeply grateful to them for their excellent contribution.” Since the CMO guidance was published, a number of initiatives and interventions have been launched to complement existing measures to tackle underage drinking and raise awareness of the harms caused by alcohol. Such initiatives have included information for parents on children and alcohol, awareness raising campaigns, as well as plans to tighten the legislation around persistently selling alcohol to children. The guidance has also informed local policy and practice, for example, Hampshire County Council’s policy for children and young people in foster care.
Link to the Hampshire CC policy: http://www3.hants.gov.uk/10-4alcoholconsumption.doc
In 2010, CPH published an investigation into guidance adherence. This was based on a large-scale sub-national survey led by Trading Standards North West that collected data before the guidance was launched, providing a baseline against which change could be measured. The study showed that by the age of 15-16 years, alcohol consumption was an established norm (81.3% reported consumption). In addition, 54.7% of drinkers reported routine heavy drinking (five or more drinks per session at least monthly), and 57.4%%reported mainly drinking unsupervised at home or at a friend’s home when parents were absent. The study also found that young people that adhered to the guidance experienced less alcohol-related violence, regretted sex and the occurrence of forgetting things due to drinking. Link to the 2010 CPH report: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/9/380/
In 2011, the CPH published a second study identifying whether any changes had occurred since the introduction of the guidance (based on a follow-up survey led by Trading Standards North West). Whilst it is not possible to directly attribute the changes seen to the Chief Medical Officer’s guidance or any subsequent interventions, CPH’s research noted that alcohol consumption continued to be the norm for 15-16 year olds surveyed in 2011. For example, 81.7% of participants reported drinking alcohol and 48.7% of these did so heavily (that is drank five or more alcoholic drinks in one session). In contrast, prevalence of risky drinking behaviours decreased between the two surveys: for example, there was a significant decrease in the proportion reporting involvement in alcohol-related violence (from 25.4% to 22.0%). However, further research would be required to identify whether this decrease represents a downward trend. View the report below: