Reported Parents told that they must not allow their children to drink alcohol

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Parents who tolerate their children drinking alcohol before the age of 15 could be putting them on the road to binge drinking and physical and mental health problems, the Chief Medical Officer warns today.

"Alcohol has a ruinous effect on the foundations of adult life," Professor Sir Liam Donaldson said. "We see the tyranny of alcohol on our towns and city centres and too often childhood is robbed of its clear-eyed innocence and replaced with the befuddled futility that comes with the consumption of dirt-cheap alcohol."

Official guidance on alcohol consumption by young people, published this morning, states that parents must realise that a "laissez-faire" attitude to their children drinking or getting drunk is putting them at risk.

Sir Liam dismissed the "middle-class obsession" with giving diluted wine to children to help them to build up a more responsible attitude towards drinking, saying that studies showed that it often had the opposite effect.

After announcing this week his decision to step down as the country's most senior medical adviser, he added that the Government's refusal to introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol, contrary to health professionals' advice and scientific research, was a battle he would continue to fight.

Setting out his final report, which is to be the backbone of a public health campaign next year led by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, he said that parents supported his proposals for an "alcohol-free" childhood.

Between the ages of 15 and 17, if youngsters drink at all then they should do so infrequently, Sir Liam recommended. Parents should avoid exposing them to "alcohol-fuelled environments" or family events where drinking was the central activity. They must also realise that allowing younger teenagers to drink alcohol with their friends could be storing up problems.

"The more they get a taste for it, the more likely they are to be heavydrinking adults or binge drinkers later in childhood," he said.

Legally, parents and carers can give their children alcohol from when they are aged 5.

The report, the most comprehensive review of scientific evidence to date, was based on an extensive public consultation. It sets out evidence linking alcohol in childhood to a range of physical and mental health problems, including damage to the developing brain and liver, long-term memory difficulties, reduced bone density and lower levels of growth hormones.

The report stated that in the past month 500,000 children aged 11 to 15 had been drunk, and each year 7,600 11 to 17-year-olds were admitted to hospital because of alcohol.

Health professionals welcomed the guidelines, which they said would help parents to establish boundaries with their children. They added their support to Sir Liam's calls for tougher legislation on cheap alcohol to tackle under-age drinking.

Jeremy Beadles, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, welcomed the guidance but added that a minimum price per unit of alcohol would not address the problem of young drinkers.

"Retailers are taking every step possible to prevent under-age sales. It would be totally wrong to suggest that pricing be used to address under-age drinking when it is illegal for someone under 18 to purchase and possess alcohol," he said.

Drinking by numbers

391,000 children aged 11-15 drink alcohol every week

3 per cent of boys and 1 per cent of girls aged 11 say they drink every week.

By age 15 the proportion rises to a quarter of all boys and a third of girls

177,000 children aged 11-15 drink alcohol more than once a week

500,000 children aged 11-15 have been drunk in the past month

16 is the average alcohol consumption in units for 11 to 15-year-old boys last year, up from 5.7 in 1990.

For girls, the figure has risen from 4.7 to 13.1 units
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