An alcohol-free childhood

Community Alcohol Partnerships [CAP] (UK) has found a disturbing and widespread lack of knowledge among parents about whether and when they should allow their children to drink alcohol.

A large survey conducted by Ipsos has shown that well over half of adults are unaware of the guidance issued by the Chief Medical Officers [CMOs], which recommends that childhood should largely be alcohol-free. 

CAP calls on governments across the UK to work to raise awareness of the dangers of underage drinking.

Official guidance from the CMOs across the UK is that the healthiest and safest option is for children’s lives to remain alcohol free up to the age of 18.  

The guidance further states that if children are to drink alcohol, it should not be until at least the age of 15. If young people aged 15 to 17 do drink, it they should do so in a supervised environment, and no more than once a week. 

In order to test public understanding of the Government advice on alcohol consumption for children, CAP commissioned an Ipsos Omnibus poll of over 2000 UK adults (not all of them parents) aged 18-75 and found that: 

  • 58% of adults said they are not aware of Government guidance on the consumption of alcohol by children and young people, initially published in 2009 by Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer for England.

Of those adults who said they were aware of the CMO guidelines:  

  • 34% (or 14% of all adults) were aware of the ‘alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option’ guideline;  
  • 31% (13% of all adults) were aware of the guidance that ‘Children should not drink alcohol before they are 15 years old’; and  
  • 21% (9% of all adults) were aware of the advice that ‘Children aged 15 to 17 should only drink with the guidance of a parent or carer or in a supervised environment’.  

The survey findings build on a previous survey of parents of 11-17 year olds in the UK, conducted in October 2021 by Ipsos for CAP, which showed: 

  • 67% of parents had never heard of, or at best knew just a little about the CMOs’ guidance on alcohol consumption for under 18s; 
  • 53% of parents allowed or would allow their children to have an alcoholic drink before they are 18;  
  • 22% of parents would allow, or had allowed, their children aged 11-17 to drink alcohol unsupervised.  

Kate Winstanley, Director of Community Alcohol Partnerships, said: “Too few parents understand that Government advice is that the children should have a mainly alcohol-free childhood. Alcohol can have serious effects on developing brains and bodies, as well as leaving teenagers vulnerable to unsafe situations and yet the majority of adults has allowed or would allow their children to drink alcohol before they are 18.  

“The widespread lack of awareness of official guidance on children drinking should be an urgent concern for governments and the NHS, since there are currently more than 3,500 alcohol-related admissions of children to hospital in England each year.” 

CAP notes that there has been no substantial campaign by Government to communicate the CMO guidance for parents, of the sort that has been successfully deployed against drink driving, or by Government, the industry and NGOs in relation to advice on alcohol consumption by adults. 

Given the scale and complexity of the task involved in increasing awareness of the CMO guidance, CAP is calling on the Government to initiate a collaborative national campaign, involving the relevant Government departments, schools, national, and local government, as well as frontline public services, retailers, youth support organisations and alcohol harm-reduction organisations, like CAP.  

It is vital to ensure that advice for parents is both widely available and accessible and that a substantial majority of parents is aware of its existence and advice.”

Source: CAP (UK, May 2022)

You can download a copy of the report here and slides on key findings here

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.