Belfast Telegraph

Quarter of Northern Ireland children aged 11-16 years drink alcohol

By Brett Campbell

Almost a quarter of children in Northern Ireland aged between 11 and 16 are drinking alcohol - sometimes on a daily basis, according to an official study.

The Department of Health's latest Health Inequalities report suggest the number is even higher in some places.

The statistics show that 15% of children between year eight and year 12 who live in the Western Health Trust area currently drink alcohol. But the rate almost doubles to 29% in the Northern Trust catchment.

The report also found that 27% of 11 to 16-year-olds in the South Eastern Trust area drink alcohol.

In the same area, 83% of adults drink alcohol, higher than the Northern Ireland average of 80%

Overall 32% of all secondary school children here admitted taking alcohol at some point.

However, that ranged from 25% in the Western Trust at the bottom end and 38% in the South Eastern Trust area.

The report shows no significant change in the life expectancy rate, which for males in Northern Ireland stands at 78.5, almost four years less than it is for females (82.3).

However, the gap between the most and least deprived areas narrowed slightly. Males and females living within the South Eastern Trust area can expect to live the longest - 79.5 years for men and 83.1 for women.

Belfast has the lowest life expectancy for males and females of 76.4 and 81.3 years respectively.

Belfast GP George O'Neill called for an inter-agency response to tackle "huge levels of inequality" here following decades of failure.

Despite the worrying figures for young people, Dr O'Neill, chair of Addiction NI, said that he was more concerned about the increasing alcohol consumption among the over-55s.

"It's no surprise that children at school try alcohol, but the overall trend is that younger people are choosing not to drink," he said.

"I am more concerned at the huge levels of inequality which I remember being horrified at 20 years ago, but nothing has changed and it's unacceptable."

Dr O'Neill said higher rates of alcohol consumption and smoking, lower rates of breastfeeding and a long list of other disparities result in reduced longevity and a poorer quality of life for too many people.

"Poor education and unemployment also perpetuate this generational problem and an inter-agency response is needed," he added.

Belfast Telegraph

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