Of alcopops and asthma

1st August 1997 at 01:00

Despite the furore over alcopops, fewer young people are drinking, researchers found - but those that do are drinking more.

Cider and fortified wines have fallen out of favour, while spirits appear to be increasingly popular with girls compared to 10 years ago.

Among 14 and 15-year-old girls in Year 10, alcopops have replaced wine as the most popular drink, drunk by 25 per cent. Among boys of the same age, they were second most popular (at 22 per cent) behind beer (39 per cent). The average child drank two or three cans a week.

The survey found 43 per cent of girls and 41 per cent of boys in Year 10 had drunk nothing alcoholic during the previous week - a drop of 6 per cent among girls and 9 per cent among boys.

But heavy drinkers were on the increase - 6.4 per cent of boys and 7.6 per cent of girls had drunk more than the recommended safe number of units in the past week, compared to around 4 per cent and 1.5 per cent in 1986.


Girls continue to smoke more than boys, but figures for both sexes were the highest recorded in the 11 years of the survey - 6 per cent higher than in 1986. Two-thirds of regular smokers would like to stop.

Researcher Dave Regis said: "Smoking among young people has been a big government target in the Health of the Nation. But we are way off target.

"There are all sorts of things you can blame. But do we really understand what smoking does for young people and are we offering them anything else instead?" With the Government planning a complete ban on cigarette advertising, the unit asked pupils if advertisements influenced young people to take up smoking. Between 40 and 50 per cent said yes, although numbers fell among older children.


Under-16-year-olds buy scratchcards and are playing the National Lottery despite the age limit. And for a minority it leads to stealing, lying and missing school.

Among 14 and 15-year-olds, 45 per cent of boys and 40 per cent of girls had tried scratchcards in the past year. Half the boys and a third of the girls had played arcade fruit machines.

Most scratchcard players had bought only one ticket in the previous month. But 8 per cent of boys said they had spent Pounds 5 or more in a single session. A quarter of players had found themselves hooked on scratchcards and half on arcade games and possibly spent more than they had planned.

The survey found 10 per cent of boys and 5 per cent of girls had spent money without permission on arcade games and scratchcards - often getting it from their bus fare or dinner money but sometimes selling possessions or taking it from their parents or others.


Despite a continuing rise in recorded cases of childhood asthma, many young teenagers are still left undiagnosed, the survey found. Girls in particular seem under-diagnosed.

The Exeter unit was able to gain an indication of how many children were truly asthmatic by asking whether they experienced classic symptoms like wheezing or interrupted sleep and night coughing.

Around 18 per cent of pupils said they had asthma - another 12 per cent didn't know if they had it or not. But a third of boys and half the girls were woken at night by coughing. And more than half of all pupils said they wheezed when they ran.


Boys enjoy physical activities more than girls, but enthusiasm declines among both sexes as they grow older. Fewer girls take exercise than 10 years ago.

A quarter of all 14 and 15-year-old girls said they considered themselves unfit or very unfit. Only a third of girls enjoyed sport "a lot" and around 15 per cent said they never took part in physical exercise.

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