Drink and drug culture 'growing among children'

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The Independent Online
LESLEY GERARD

Drink, drugs and dieting play an increasing role in the lives of today's 11- to 16-year-olds with more than 10 per cent of boys and 8 per cent of girls aged 15 to 16 drinking more than the recommended adult limit of 21 units a week for men and 14 for women.

Most under-aged drinking takes place at home and is starting from an earlier age. Children are drinking much stronger beer than a decade ago, the survey of 48,292 pupils for the Schools Health Education Unit says.

Sixty per cent of 11-year-old boys and 57 per cent of 11-year-old girls consumed alcohol at home. In 20 per cent of cases their parents did not know. Forty per cent of 15-to 16-year-olds said their parents did not know about their drinking.

The report points out: "Many responsible parents often suggest drinking at home is an appropriate part of the process of bringing up children so that they use alcohol sensibly."

Children are also more likely to be exposed to illegal drugs. About 70 per cent of 15- to 16-year-olds said they knew someone taking drugs and knew what they were taking, from tranquillisers to heroin and crack. Forty per cent of this age group had been offered cannabis.

One-third of boys and 27 per cent of girls aged 15 to 16 have used cannabis, and 13 per cent of boys and 11 per cent of girls in this group have experimented with synthetic hallucinogens such as LSD.

John Balding, director of the unit, which has been conducting the research for nine years, said: "Parents and schools need to know how close their child is to a source. There has been an enormous amount of denial in schools; heads are insistent that there is no problem.

"Schools should adopt a realistic approach and acknowledge that most young people - although they are not necessarily all taking drugs - are increasingly exposed to the risk."

Girls are more likely to smoke and diet to starvation levels. About 50 per cent of girls and just over 20 per cent of boys said they wanted to lose weight.

The older girls get, the more obsessed they become with dieting and appearance. Thirty-four per cent of 15- to 16-year-old girls either ate nothing or had only a drink before leaving for school in the morning.

Girls prefer health products and low-fat spreads, whereas 30 per cent of boys eat chips or roast potatoes most days. More than 50 per cent of girls and 40 per cent of boys eat fresh fruit on most days. But taking part in sports declined with age.

More than 25 per cent of 15-to 16-year-olds smoke at least one cigarette a week. Boys who said they smoked at this age averaged 39 cigarettes a week, girls 38 a week. But 75 per cent of teenage smokers want to give up.

The survey also focused on homework, leisure, money and health. Older teenagers worried about catching Aids; 45 per cent believed "mistakenly" that blood transfusions are dangerous in transmitting HIV.

They said television taught them more about Aids than any other source and while most believe advice on sex should come from their parents, most are more likely to consult friends. On average, those questioned spent two hours watching television on weekdays; 85 per cent voted it their favourite evening pastime.

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