Researchers from University College London (UCL) and the London School of Economics have found that nearly 14% of 11-year-olds had drunk more than a few sips of alcohol at least once.
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. The researchers, who analysed data on more than 10,000 children taking part in the Millennium Cohort Study, also found that friends’ drinking had a stronger association with children’s alcohol consumption than parents’ drinking.
Lead author, Professor Yvonne Kelly, from University College London, explains: “Drinking in adolescence is considered a ‘risky’ behaviour, it often co-occurs with other ‘risky’ behaviours 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’ behaviours.”
Other factors associated with drinking were having started puberty, being a second or later born child, having socioemotional difficulties (e.g. sustaining positive relationships, experiencing, managing or expressing emotions) and antisocial behaviours.
The study is thought to be the first to examine drinking behaviours in very early adolescence in relation to a wide range of factors that are associated with alcohol consumption in children, such as family, friends and the young person’s views about alcohol.
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 reduce the risk associated with drinking in youth.
“Our findings support the need for interventions working at multiple levels, including family and school, to help shape choices around risky behaviours including drinking,” Professor Kelly concludes.
‘What influences 11-year-olds to drink? Findings from the Millennium Cohort Study’, Yvonne Kelly, Alice Goisis, Amanda Sacker, Noriko Cable, Richard G Watt, Annie Britton, is published in BMC Public Health
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