British teenagers consume more alcohol than their European or north American counterparts. Michael Shaw reports
Children in Britain drink alcohol more often and more heavily than young people in any other country in Europe and north America.
The World Health Organisation survey of 11 to 15-year-olds in 35 countries found that young people in England and Wales were the hardest drinkers and among also the most likely to have unprotected sex.
A third of 13-year-old boys in England and a quarter of girls said that they drank alcohol every week. The survey found that 11 and 13-year-old English children were the most likely to drink spirits and report that they had got drunk on several occasions.
Pupils in Wales drank nearly the same amounts at these ages and were even more likely to have drinking binges by the time they were 15.
The survey of more than 160,000 young people was co-ordinated by the University of Edinburgh and is believed to be the largest of its kind.
The researchers said that the levels of teenage alcohol abuse should concern teachers and parents. "Young people urgently need a greater awareness of the potential ill effects of drinking," they said.
They suggested education programmes should be improved, health warnings placed on bottles, and new taxes put on alcohol to deter "price-sensitive young drinkers".
The study found that youngsters in England are the most likely to have under-age sex, after young people in Greenland, and the fourth most likely to smoke cannabis.
The amount of bullying which children reported in England and Wales was around average, but both countries were close to the top of the tables for schoolwork-related stress.
The four countries with the highest proportion of 15-year-olds who said they felt under pressure from their schoolwork were Malta, Wales, Lithuania, then England. Pupils in Scotland seem more relaxed, as their country ranked halfway down the table.
Children in England also appeared the most distrustful of their classmates.
Only 34 per cent of 13-year-old boys in England said they felt their peers were kind and helpful, compared to 62 per cent in Wales and 80 per cent in Switzerland.
Dr Candace Currie, co-ordinator of the report, said that some of its findings could appear contradictory.
"There are no simple answers," she said. "For example, we know that peer friendships are an important factor in young people's sense of well-being and personal behaviour, yet they can often lead to an increase in risk behaviour such as drinking and smoking."
Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children is at www.euro.who.int