Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 13 July 2014

Shock report reveals children boozing at 11

Shock report reveals that Northern Ireland children are boozing at 11-years-old

Northern Ireland’s top doctor has issued a grim warning about boozed-up youngsters.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said the average age at which children in Northern Ireland begin drinking has fallen as low as 11 and warned of the health risks of drinking too much, too young.

The shock report revealed that four out of five 16-year-olds have had a drink and that the greatest increase in drinking occurs between the ages of 11 and 13. It also revealed that 2% of young people admit they drink every single day.

Dr McBride also said binge drinking was becoming “a way of life” for many people of all ages. “For many years we have had concerns about young people’s drinking — an increasing number of young people are turning up at A &E the worse for wear for alcohol, and young people actually needing treatment for their ‘alcohol problem’,” he said.

Dr McBride also looked at the issue of teenage pregnancy and sexual health for all ages, including young people.

He highlighted that the number of births to teenage mums has fallen in recent years. There were 1,427 such births in 2006, a fall of 20% on 1999 figures.

Dr McBride tackles a wide range of health issues facing all ages in Northern Ireland in the report — but his gravest worries are targeted at under-age drinkers and the impact this lifestyle will have on their bodies.

He also said binge drinking was becoming “a way of life” for many people of all ages. “For many years we have had concerns about young people’s drinking — an increasing number of young people are turning up at A&E the worse for wear for alcohol, and young people actually needing treatment for their ‘alcohol problem’,” he said.

“We all have views and concerns about this and we are all quick to point the finger at others, at places where young people can buy alcohol even though they are under-age, at people who buy alcohol for young people, at the police who ‘don’t do anything about it’, at parents who don’t seem to care — at, well, at almost anyone except ourselves. And that perhaps is the real issue — when it comes to under-age drinking we all have a part to play in the problem.”

His views come weeks after Department of Health figures revealed that 1,178 under 17s were admitted to hospital with an alcohol-related illness between 2002 and 2007.

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey recently said the New Strategic Direction for Alcohol and Drugs (NSD), which was launched in 2006, identified addressing underage and binge drinking as key priorities — and addressing underage drinking was also identified as a key priority in the allocation of the additional funding received for public health through the comprehensive spending review (CSR) process.

Among the stark drinking facts highlighted by the CMO are:

l The average age for a first alcoholic drink is 11;

l The greatest increase in drinking occurs between 11 and 13 years;

l 2% of young people admit drinking every day; and

l Northern Ireland has some of Europe’s highest levels of drunkenness.

Mr McBride also looked at the issue of teenage pregnancy and sexual health for all ages, including young people. He highlighted that the number of births to teenage mums has fallen in recent years. There were 1,427 such births in 2006, a fall of 20% on 1999 figures.

He also spoke of the need for “positive and accurate information about sexual health”.

“Young people in particular cannot make informed choices about their sexual health unless they have knowledge. Parents and carers must also have the skills to educate and inform young people,” Dr McBride wrote.

“Helping young people making informed choices about their sexual health and reducing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases will be a key focus of the new (Sexual Health Promotion) strategy. One of the main challenges is attitudes to sexual behaviour.”

The report also explores the issues of medical emergencies, a cervical cancer vaccine, giving blood, smoking, breast-feeding, nut allergies and mental health.

The CMO also addressed how authorities are trying to tackle hospital superbugs in the light of an on-going C. Difficile outbreak in Northern Trust hospitals. He said good work was producing results, giving the province a lower rate of hospital-acquired infections than England or Wales.

Dr McBride said five main control measures have been identified as key planks in reducing the spread of C.difficile. These include prudent use of antibiotics, hand hygiene, environmental cleaning, isolation nursing and use of ‘personal protection equipment’.

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