Childhood drinking falls in Sunderland – but experts say underage drinking is still too high

Dr David Blackwell, Sunderland University's Associate Dean of Student Experience, who has published a report claiming fewer school children are drinking alcohol now than they were in 1996.
Dr David Blackwell, Sunderland University's Associate Dean of Student Experience, who has published a report claiming fewer school children are drinking alcohol now than they were in 1996.
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CHILDREN in Sunderland are now downing less booze than during the nineties, according to a new study.

Research carried out by Professors Alison McInnes and David Blackwell, at Sunderland University, looked at the drinking behaviour of youngsters from 1996 to 2010.

The data was gathered using a questionnaire, completed by boys and girls in school Years 8 and 10, at two-yearly intervals across 14 years.

Their report shows a steady increase in the percentage of kids who said they did not drink alcohol in the seven days prior to taking the survey.

The numbers show binge drinking – downing between seven and 14 units a week – dropped from 21 per cent in 1996 for boys in Year 10 to just eight per cent in 2010.

Across the board, there was a dramatic drop in the numbers drinking on between two and four days a week, while the research also showed supermarkets were the least likely place for youngsters to buy their booze.

The findings appear to contradict popular opinion, and Dr Blackwell admits he was surprised by the 
results.

“Reports like this can cover loads of things about behaviour but the one thing we picked up on was drinking, because in the North East, young people are given a very bad image,” he said.

“But our findings seem to go against that and it appears there’s a downward trend in terms of drinking. I was very surprised to find that.

“I cannot see any reason why the children would not be honest because it was an confidential survey done by independent researchers. It would appear some of the messages in the health and awareness campaigns are getting through, although we can’t show a causal link so we cannot put two and two together.”

North East alcohol office Balance welcomed the findings, but insisted there is still more work to be 
done.

“We know that the number of young people choosing not to drink is increasing, which is a positive step,” said director Colin Shevills.

“We deliver a range of campaigns across the region to highlight alcohol harms and our partners within each locality continue to work hard to reduce the impact of alcohol on families and within communities.

“However, there are still too many young people drinking too much and the UK chief medical officers recommend that an alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option.

“Consumption of alcohol at a young age can have a devastating effect on physical and mental development and can lead to a range of health issues.

“Alcohol consumption also leads to poor decision making and risk-taking behaviour, making young people even more vulnerable.”

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