Health warning as girls overtake boys for binge drinking

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Teenage girls are now binge drinking more frequently than boys, according to a report published yesterday. It is the first time girls have outstripped their male peers in excessive alcohol consumption.

Teenage girls are now binge drinking more frequently than boys, according to a report published yesterday. It is the first time girls have outstripped their male peers in excessive alcohol consumption.

Experts warned that the rise in young female drinking was an "unprecedented phenomenon" that could threaten the health of a generation of women.

Girls in their teens are being treated for alcohol-related diseases, according to experts, with a girl aged 17 in Liverpool diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Youth workers said that children were turning up drunk to afternoon-activity clubs within hours of the end of school.

Charities accused the drinks industry of "aggressively targeting" women with low-calorie products.

The latest findings were included in the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs, which published its third report on teenage behaviour yesterday.

British teenagers are among the heaviest drinkers in the study, which looked at the habits of 15 and 16 year olds in 35 European countries.

It found that 29 per cent of British girls in that age group admitted to "binge drinking" three or more times in the previous month, compared to 26 per cent of boys. Binge drinking was defined as having five or more drinks at the same sitting.

Only Irish teenagers had higher rates of binge drinking than the British counterparts, while in France,7 per cent of girls and 13 per cent of boys indulged in similar behaviour.

Binge drinking among British boys fell 7 per cent between 1999 and 2003, but the rate among girls rose 3 per cent.

Girls in Britain drink more spirits, wine and alcopops than boys, the study found - a trend which is matched only by Ireland and the Isle of Man.

Professor Martin Plant, a professor of addiction studies at the University of the West of England, said: "Girls are now outdoing boys in drinking and that really is a rather nasty trend. What we are seeing in Britain is something quite unprecedented. It is something that has been going on since the late 1990s and that has to be worrying for a whole cohort of women and girls."

While France, Germany and other Western European countries are at the bottom of most tables for the amount of alcohol drunk and the frequency of drunkenness among teenagers, the UK has remained at the top alongside impoverished former eastern bloc countries.

About four of 10British girls admitted to drinking spirits at least three times in the previous month, compared to 21 per cent of Italian girls and 17 per cent of those from Norway.

Mr Plant said that the "laddette" culture and the fact that drinks companies were sponsoring programmes such as Friends and Sex and the City which appealed to young women were part of the problem. He added: "We also have completely feckless and irresponsible cheap drinks promotions which have led to a culture where people's sole motivation for going out at night is to compete over how much they can drink."

Mr Plant also criticised the Government, saying it had failed to announce a single target to cut drink problems. Geethika Jayatilaka, the director of policy and public affairs at Alcohol Concern, said: "It is particularly worrying that girls have overtaken boys. Glamorous [drink] advertising needs to be stopped."

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