Five-Point Plan for Alcohol-Free Childhood

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

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, including Dr Rachel Seabrook of IAS, who
reviewed the latest available medical evidence and data from across the
UK on the impact of alcohol and young people.

Sir Liam Donaldson 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.”

Following publication of the guidance, the Chief Medical
Officer has also produced five tips to help parents address the issue of
alcohol consumption by children and young people.:

1. Establish family values on alcohol Lead by example.
Avoid exposing children and young people to family situations,
behaviours and environments that are alcohol-fuelled or where drinking
is the central activity.

2. Educate and inform Make children aware from an early
age of the damage to body and health caused by early or excessive use of
alcohol. Regularly reinforce the messages.

3. Set boundaries Establish the norm that childhood and
adolescence should be alcohol-free. Make clear that drink parties,
clandestine drinking and getting drunk are not acceptable.

4. Encourage positive alternatives Encourage young people
to pursue positive social interests, such as taking part in team sports
or organised youth activities.

5. Challenge stereotypes Take opportunities to dispel the
attractive images of alcohol consumption. Getting drunk is not a fun
activity. Heavy drinkers are not heroic.

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.

The CMO’s announcement is available here.

The consultation documents, including full details of the guidance and supporting evidence, are available here.