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Tanked-up teens: Cheap alcohol strongly linked to harmful underage drinking in the UK

Researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Public Health studied the drinking habits of 9833 15-16 year olds in the North West of England, finding that excessively low cost alcohol products and illicit purchase are strongly related to harmful underage drinking.

Mark Bellis worked with a team from Liverpool John Moores University and Trading Standards (North West) to survey the teens' alcohol consumption patterns, drink types consumed, drinking locations, methods of access and harms encountered.

He said, "Regretted sex after drinking, having been involved in violence when drunk, consuming alcohol in public places and forgetting things after drinking had all been experienced by relatively large proportions of teen drinkers. For children who drink alcohol we did not find any typical drinking patterns where children were at no risk of harms.

Accessing alcohol through parents did not remove the risks of alcohol related harms but was associated with lower levels of risk". While 19.9% of teen drinkers whose parents provide alcohol and who drink once a week had been involved in violence when drunk, this rose to 35.9% in those who only access alcohol through other means.

The researchers found a strong relationship between consumption of cheaper alcohol products and increased proportions of respondents reporting violence when drunk, alcohol related regretted sex and drinking in public places. Drinking large cider bottles was, in particular, associated with drinking in public areas such as streets, parks and outside shops. At the time of the study, alcopops were not associated with increased risk of harm, perhaps because their relatively high price per unit of alcohol limited their abuse potential.

Bellis said, "The negative impacts of alcohol on children's health are substantial. Those parents who choose to allow children aged 15-16 years to drink may limit harms by restricting consumption to lower frequencies (e.g. no more than once a week) and under no circumstances permitting binge drinking. However, parental efforts should be matched by genuine legislative and enforcement activity to reduce independent access to alcohol by children and to increase the price of cheap alcohol products".

1. Teenage drinking, alcohol availability and pricing: a cross-sectional study of risk and protective factors for alcohol-related harms in school children
Mark A Bellis, Penelope A Phillips-Howard, Karen Hughes, Sara Hughes, Penny A Cook, Michela Morleo, Kerin Hannon, Linda Smallthwaite and Lisa Jones

BMC Public Health (in press)

2. BMC Public Health is an open access journal publishing original peer-reviewed research articles in the epidemiology of disease and the understanding of all aspects of public health. The journal has a special focus on the social determinants of health, the environmental, behavioral, and occupational correlates of health and disease, and the impact of health policies, practices and interventions on the community. BMC Public Health (ISSN 1471-2458) is indexed/tracked/covered by PubMed, MEDLINE, CAS, Scopus, EMBASE, Current Contents, Thomson Reuters (ISI) and Google Scholar.

3. BioMed Central ( is an STM (Science, Technology and Medicine) publisher which has pioneered the open access publishing model. All peer-reviewed research articles published by BioMed Central are made immediately and freely accessible online, and are licensed to allow redistribution and reuse. BioMed Central is part of Springer Science+Business Media, a leading global publisher in the STM sector.

Charlotte Webber | EurekAlert!
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