The UK has the highest rate of teenage drunkenness
Young teenagers in the UK are more likely to get drunk than anywhere else in the industrial world, shows an international survey.
Girls in particular have pushed up this level of drunkenness in the UK, says a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Among 15-year-olds, girls are more likely to have been drunk than boys.
But the report also says young people in the UK are materially well-off and enjoy a “high quality of school life”.
The report, Doing Better for Children, compares the well-being of young people living in the leading industrial economies.
This wide-ranging international study shows young people in the UK enjoying generous support as they grow up – with above-average state funding, a high quality of school life, below-average child poverty and low levels of bullying.
YOUNG PEOPLE’S WELL-BEING
Worst drunkenness: UK
Highest rate of bullying: Turkey
Most affluent: Norway
Best education: Finland
Best local environment: Australia
Least exercise: Switzerland
Best housing: Norway
Least risk: Sweden
Highest suicide rate: New Zealand
Enjoy school most: Turkey
Enjoy school least: Czech Republic
But in their personal lives, the UK youngsters are characterised by alcohol abuse and high rates of teenage pregnancy.
Drunkenness in the UK is the highest among 24 OECD countries, measured in terms of the proportion of 13 and 15-year-olds having been drunk at least twice.
The UK’s figure for these under-age drunks – 33% – is more than double the rate for countries such as the United States, France and Italy.
Among girls the gap between the UK and other countries is even wider.
One in five 13-year-olds in the UK reports having been drunk twice – four times higher than countries such as the United States, Sweden and the Netherlands.
Among 15-year-old girls in the UK, 50% reported getting drunk, almost three times higher than their counterparts in France. The rate for boys in the UK in this age group getting drunk is 44%.
“The difference in the UK is the high level of risk taking,” says report co-author, Dominic Richardson.
As well as young people getting drunk more often there are also unusually high rates of teenage pregnancy, he says.
This is despite a background of increased spending on young people – and relatively strong educational performance.
“It shows that tackling child poverty is not a magic bullet. Children who are from well-off homes can still have problems,” he says.
In terms of abusing alcohol, he says the difference might be the context in which young people first experiment with drink. In France or Italy, youngsters might try drinks in a family environment – where they are less likely to get drunk. In the UK, they might be drinking with other teenagers.
“It’s down to sensible teaching,” he says.
The figures on teenage drinking used by the OECD were gathered in 2005-06. More recent figures from the NHS, published in July, suggest that more 11 to 15-year-olds are not drinking any alcohol – but those who do drink are consuming more.
While the OECD highlights the problems with drinking and teenage pregnancy, it also presents a positive picture of the support available to people growing up in the UK.
It says that relative to other countries, children here are “materially fairly well-off”.
And that “average family income is higher and child poverty is lower than OECD averages”.
It says that children in the UK also enjoy a high quality of school life and enjoy school much more than many of their international counterparts.
Also bullying is less frequent and teenage suicides are less common in the UK than in most other industrialised countries.
Children’s Minister Dawn Primarolo said it was “disappointing to see the UK rated so low for risky behaviours”.
But she said efforts to encourage more young people to lead “healthy, safe, fulfilled and responsible lives” were beginning to show results.
“Recent statistics have shown encouraging decreases in teenage conceptions during the first half of 2008, that fewer teenagers than ever before are choosing to drink alcohol and we know that drug use among young people is falling.”
The minister also said she was “delighted to see that the record investment in education is paying off with the UK performing substantially better than the OECD average for quality of school life”.