One in six UK parents allowed their children to drink alcohol at the age of 14, with potentially dangerous implications for their future, researchers from University College London and Pennsylvania State University have found. What's more, this is much more likely to be the case amongst well-educated, white parents, many of whom believe that, by introducing their children to alcohol at home, they are teaching them how to drink safely.
In the UK, the legal limit for purchasing alcohol is 18, but the UK Chief Medical Officer advises that the earliest teenagers should be allowed to try alcohol is at age 15, because before then their brains and bodies are not properly developed.
How does this reflect policy and practice across Europe?
Most European countries share the UK's minimum age of 18 for the purchase of alcohol. The country with the lowest minimum age limit for the purchase of alcohol is Albania, at 14. At 20, Iceland has the highest limit.
In data collected by the World Health Organisation, some countries differentiate between alcohol purchased for consumption on the premises, and that purchased for consumption off-premises. In Finland, for example, young people can drink on-premises at 18, but off premises, they can only buy spirits at the age of 20.
In Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzlerland, there are different (lower) age limits for wine and beer than for spirits.
Just a taste?
In conjunction with the World Health Organisation, the Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HSBC) study looks at the relationship of children to alcohol. It studies the incidence of "regular drunkenness" amongst young people. In the study young people were asked whether they had ever had so much alcohol that they were "really drunk". At aged 15, the percentage of those that said they had been drunk ten times or more varied widely across Europe.
Denmark has the highest proportion of 15-year-olds who have been drunk at least ten times: 20% of boys and 19% of girls. The Netherlands has the lowest incidence: 3% of boys and 1% of girls.
In every country except Spain (10% of boys and girls) and Iceland (4%), there is a gender difference in the results. Everywhere except Finland (14% of girls and 13% of boys), the proportion is higher amongst boys than girls. In Croatia this is particularly marked (boys: 15% and girls 4%).
Any correlation between legal limit and drunkennees?
The data suggests that there is very little correlation between the legal limit for purchasing alcohol and the incidence of drunkenness amongst young people.
How young do you think is too young when it comes to alcohol?