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“2020health is an important and thoughtful contributor to the health debate”

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Chairman, Health Select Committee


Sunday Telegraph British girls have almost worst drinking habits in Western world

British girls are more likely to get drunk than those in almost any country in the Western world, international research has found.

Only in Denmark is binge-drinking more common among 15-year-old girls, the analysis of industrialised nations shows.

Experts last night warned that a “ladette culture” had taken grip on Brtain’s teens, with drunkenness reaching epidemic levels among young women, and end-stage liver disease increasingly diagnosed among those in their 20s and 30s.

The study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which examined 27 nations, found that the UK was among just seven nations where teenage girls were more likely to get drunk than were boys of the same age. In total, 44 per cent of British 15-year-old girls and 39 per cent of boys told researchers that they had been drunk on at least two occassions. Only Denmark had a higher percentage of teenage girl drinkers.

Countries such as Russia, Estonia, the Czech republic and Slovenia - which are traditionally seen as having a problem with alcohol - had far lower figures.

In countries such as France and Italy, female teen drinking levels were less than half those in the UK, while in the US just 13 per cent of girls had been drunk at least twice by the age of 15.
Britain was one of only seven countries in which levels of drunkenness among teenage girls are higher than that among boys, the figures show, with the UK sixth worst for drinking levels among teenage boys.

Last night Julia Manning, chief executive of the think tank 2020Health, said: “It used to be that women and girls in this country would be ashamed of being drunk, but now this ladette culture has taken hold. We have ended up with a situation where young girls are really concerned about seeming cool - yet they don’t care about being seen vomiting in public.”

Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, special advisor on alcohol to the Royal College of Physicians, said the culture in Britain had changed, so that being drunk was now seen as “socially acceptable”, while children were not protected from advertising which glamorised drinking. He said: “We are now seeing more and more young women - in their 30s and even in their 20s - with end-stage liver disease. This isn’t necessarily about alcoholics either; this is young women who started early and got into the habit of drinking in large amounts.” Sir Ian said: “This Government has been very laissez-faire about regulation and this is the result - we are in a very bad place about alcohol.”

Britain’s high position on the female league table means we are one of only seven countries were drunkenness among girls is higher than that among boys.

Eric Appleby, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: “Young people have a tough time working out how to deal with alcohol, they’re bombarded with alcohol advertising telling them it’s normal to drink and it’s available everywhere at pocket money prices.” The charity is calling for tighter rules on advertising and minimum alcohol prices. Studies have found that 11 to 15 year olds see more advertising for alcohol than their parents, while children as young as 11 were able to recognise a brand of vodka when the name was hidden.

Latest NHS figures show around 17,000 people were admitted to hospital with liver disease in 2011/12, with a doubling in admissions among those under the age of 30 in the past decade.

Mrs Manning said the shocking findings were a “siren call” to ministers, demonstrating the urgent need to tackle the drinking culture among British teens, by reducing access to alcohol, with tighter licensing and regulation of advertising. She said the drinking culture among girls was putting them at risk of sexual exploitation, as well as fuelling increases in liver disease.
“We have the most lax attitude to alcohol, with licensing hours and advertising which targets young drinks and now we are seeing an epidemic of drunkenesss among young girls, turning up in Accident & Emergency departments, as well as rates of cirrosis and other liver disease going up and up.”

The figures are contained in the OECD’s Health at a Glance report for 2013, and are based on the most recent worldwide survey, which took place in 2010.

Among girls, the UK is second equal with Finland on 44 per cent of 15-year-olds saying they had been drunk twice before – behind Denmark on 56 per cent. Just behind Britain are a range of Eastern European countries such as Estonia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Hungary.
Britain is far ahead of countries such as Canada (35 per cent), Ireland (28 per cent) and the United States, on just 13 per cent. Most continental countries fare far better, including Italy (14 per cent), France (17 per cent), Portugal (18 per cent) and Greece (19 per cent).
The average across the OECD is just 28 per cent – much lower than the situation in the UK, wihile Russia stands at 19 per cent. Among boys, the UK is sixth worst among the industrialised nations. In total, 39 per cent of 15-year-olds said they had been drunk at least twice – much higher than the OECD average of 32 per cent, and more than countries such as France (26 per cent), Italy (19 per cent) and the United States (15 per cent).

Last week the think tank Demos said parents who buy alcohol for their children should be “socially shamed” - with photographs of offenders displayed in shops. It followed research which found that one in five children aged 11 to 15 who drank alcohol in the last month, said it had been bought for them by their parents. Under their proposals, people who buy alcohol on behalf of underage drinkers could also be banned from off-licenses or face community sentences.

Last night Jonathan Birdwell, of Demos, said: “These are shocking findings and reveal just how widespread Britain’s problem of underage drinking really is. “All the evidence points to the fact that the younger people are when they get drunk, the more likely they will be exposed to serious health risks in later life.