Around one in seven 11 years olds in the UK have had at least one drink of alcohol, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Public Health.
The researchers found that nearly 14% of 11-year-olds had drunk more than a few sips of alcohol at least once. The study said it is not possible to make statements regarding cause and effect with this sort of study, but the numbers do show a strong association between 11-year-olds drinking and their friends’ and mothers’ behavior.
Children whose mothers drank heavily were 80% more likely to drink than children whose mothers did not drink and boys were more likely to report drinking than girls. Children whose friends drank were five times more likely to drink than those whose friends did not drink.
Positive perceptions of alcohol were associated with increased odds of a child drinking. These include perceptions that alcohol makes people feel better about themselves or that it makes it easier to make friends.
Lead author Yvonne Kelly, from University College London, said: “Drinking in adolescence is considered a ‘risky’ behavior, it often co-occurs with other ‘risky’ behaviors and it is linked to educational failure and to premature mortality, for example via accidental deaths. Improving our understanding of the factors that influence drinking is important as it has implications for the development of policies and interventions aimed at reducing ‘risky’ behaviors.”
The researchers suggest that while the vast majority of children at the age of eleven are yet to explore alcohol, investigating in more detail the context in which children drink – who they drink with, where, when, what they drink and how they acquire alcohol – could help inform effective policy and alcohol harm prevention strategies to mitigate the risk associated with drinking in youth.
Yvonne Kelly said: “Our findings support the need for interventions working at multiple levels, including family and school, to help shape choices around risky behaviors including drinking.”