England Plans Alcohol-Free Childhood

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For the first time, young people and their parents will have clear medical guidance on alcohol consumption. The guidance, will be announced today by Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, to be published for consultation. It will recommend that young people up to the age of 15 should avoid alcohol altogether.

The five-point guidance document will form part of a consultation on alcohol and young people launched by Children Schools and Families Secretary, Ed Balls, Health Secretary, Alan Johnson, and the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson.

The guidance was a commitment in the Youth Alcohol Action Plan, launched in June last year and responds to calls from parents for clear messages on the health effects and risks of young people drinking alcohol.

The Chief Medical Officer's Guidance on the Consumption of Alcohol by Children and Young People advises:

1. an alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option - if children drink alcohol, it shouldn't be before they reach 15 years old;

2. for those aged 15 - 17 years old all alcohol consumption should always be with the guidance of a parent or carer or in a supervised environment;

3. parents and young people should be aware that drinking, even at age 15 or older, can be hazardous to health and not drinking is the healthiest option for young people. If children aged 15 - 17 consume alcohol the should do so infrequently and certainly on no more than one day a week;

4. the importance of parental influences on children's alcohol use should be communicated to parents, carers and professionals. Parents and carers need advice on how to respond to alcohol use and misuse by children;

5. support services must be available for children and young people who have alcohol related problems and their parents

Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer for England, led the development of the guidance, following extensive research and work with a panel of experts who reviewed the latest available medical evidence and data from across the UK on the impact of alcohol and young people.

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Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer for England, said: "This guidance aims to support parents, give them the confidence to set boundaries and to help them engage with young people about drinking and risks associated with it.

"More than 10,000 children end up in hospital every year due to drinking and research tells us that 15 per cent of young people think it is normal to get drunk at least once a week. They are putting themselves at risk of harm to the liver, depression and damage to the developing brain. Resulting social issues can lead to children and young people doing less well at school and struggling to interact with friends and family."

Children, Schools and Families Secretary, Ed Balls, said: "Parents have told us that they lack the health information and advice they need to make decisions about whether or how their children should be introduced to alcohol. So I hope the Chief Medical Officer's advice will help them with the tricky task of deciding the best way of doing that.

"We want this advice and information to be a success and really help families. That's why we're asking young people, parents and all those interested for their views. I think all of us as parents need to look at this advice, see whether it's right for us and ask whether we are doing the best thing for our children.

"Alcohol is a part of our national culture and if managed responsibly can have a positive influence in social circumstances. However when it is not managed responsibly it can cause real problems.

"That's why the Chief Medical Officer's guidance is important and why it is vital that we now discuss it in detail with parents and young people.. We hope that it will help parents to set realistic boundaries for their children and help them to introduce alcohol to young people in a safe and sensible way as they get older."

Alan Johnson, Secretary of State for Health said: "The decision about when young people should first drink alcohol is clearly best taken by their parents or carers. But we know that parents want more information about the harms associated with drinking to help them make this decision. Government has a responsibility to provide straightforward information and guidance, which is exactly what we are doing."

Home Office Minister Alan Campbell said: "Young people who drink too much put their own health at risk, and are more likely to get involved in antisocial behaviour and crime.

"As part of the Youth Alcohol Action Plan the Government is working in partnership with parents, industry, police and communities to tackle underage drinking which damages community safety and the health of young people.

"This includes giving police the powers to disperse under 18s who are drinking and behaving anti-socially from any location and cracking down on irresponsible retailers who persistently sell alcohol to those under 18."

The consultation will run for 12 weeks and will seek the views of young people, carers, parents and other interested parties.

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