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Thirteen-year-olds get drunk once a week

One in every nine 13-year-olds gets drunk every week, a survey of more than 33,000 children at state secondary schools has revealed.

Their favourite drinks are alcopops, according to the figures released exclusively to The TES by the Schools Health Educational Unit.

The figures follow comments made by Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, who called for a special tax on alcopops. The Treasury ruled out the proposal.

When not drinking alcopops, 13-year-old boys choose beer, then cider, while girls opt for beer, then shandy. More 15-year-olds admitted to getting drunk once a week than 13-year-olds, 27 per cent compared with 11 per cent.

The gender gap in choice of drink is also more marked at this age. Alcopops are the favourite drink for 15-year-old girls, followed by spirits and fortified wine such as Martini. But boys of this age prefer to get drunk on beer or lager, with spirits in second place and alcopops third.

Dr David Regis, head of research at the unit, said putting a special tax on alcopops might simply trigger a switch to traditional drinks such as beer, wine and spirits. "We have often asked young people why they drink," he said. "The single most common response is 'to get drunk'.

"The drinks industry advertises in a way that makes drinks seem attractive, fun and sexy, which is also unlikely to deter our children." Dr Regis said concern over binge drinking by teenagers had prompted the unit to ask for the first time whether children had got drunk in the past week. In total, 19 per cent of 11-16-year-olds said they had.

Charles Ward, general secretary of the Association of Educational Psychologists, said teenage drinking was a direct result of both society's attitudes to alcohol and a lack of supervision by parents.

"Alcohol is a mind-changing drug and is not good for those whose minds and bodies are still developing," he said.

Professor Christine Godfrey, at the University of York's department of health sciences and clinical evaluation, said: "There's good research evidence to suggest when you increase the price of alcohol, youth drinking goes down. But this finding doesn't seem to be pursued by the government."

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