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England tops chart for child alcohol consumption, WHO study reports

More than half of children in England have drunk alcohol by age 13, making this a ‘serious public health threat’
Highest rates of alcohol consumption and vaping in children in England

England has one of the highest rates of child alcohol consumption, reveals ‘health behaviour in school-aged children,’ a new study by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

By the age of 13, 57% of girls and 50% of boys in England had consumed alcohol – the highest rate out of 44 countries and regions included in the report.

Dr Jo Inchley, international co-ordinator for the study said it was worrying that ‘England is at the top of the charts for 11 and 13-year-olds when it comes to alcohol use.’

She added that there are two key areas of concern. ‘One is that our levels are higher than elsewhere in Europe and, secondly, it looks like the trends are worsening quite substantially over a relatively short period of time in the UK.’

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The study looked at 2021-22 data on 280,000 children aged 11, 13 and 15 from Europe, Central Asia and Canada, who were asked about alcohol, cigarettes and vape usage.

In addition to high rates of alcohol consumption in children, the data found that about 30% of girls aged 15 and 17% of boys the same age had vaped in the past 30 days in England. This is higher than other countries including Ireland, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Portugal.

Dr Hans Kluge, the WHO regional director for Europe said that the increasing use of harmful substances among children in England is a ‘serious public health threat’.

‘Considering that the brain continues to develop well into a person’s mid-20s, adolescents need to be protected from the effects of toxic and dangerous products. Unfortunately, children today are constantly exposed to targeted online marketing of harmful products, while popular culture, like video games, normalises them,’ said Kluge.

Responding to the study, a government spokesperson said: ‘The health advice is clear, smoking, vaping and underage drinking can be damaging for young people and their development. That is why there are age restrictions on the sale of these products.’

The spokesperson added that efforts are being made to create UK’s first smoke-free generation through the tobacco and vapes bill. ‘The bill will make it an offence to see tobacco products to anyone born after 1 January 2009 and includes powers to limit flavours, packaging and displays of vapes to reduce the appeal to children.’