Seeing double over school-age drinking in Wales

Alcohol Concern is worried that the internet may provide a new way for drinks companies to circumvent restrictions on advertising and encourage the young to drink. It’s a legitimate concern, though statistics showing declining use of alcohol by young people in the period that coincided with the rise of social media suggests that the fears may be exaggerated.

In a new report picked up by several newspapers yesterday the charity explores the issue, with the help of a focus group consisting of 15 young people in Wales aged 16 and 17. Their main exposure to drinking on social networking sites seems to have consisted of pictures posted by their friends when drunk.

None of them had ever accessed websites devoted to drink brands – or intended to in future - and the majority had not visited alcohol brand sites on Facebook either. The minority who had accessed these sites had devoted little time to them.

A focus group of fifteen is scarcely evidence, of course, and these results get no mention in Alcohol Concern’s press release. It does assert, however, that “a recent survey” had found that 37 per cent of children aged 13-15 have seen photos of their friends drunk on social networking sites – a claim unmentioned in the actual report.

It adds that the report had found that 8 per cent of year 9 pupils and 25 per cent of year 11 pupils in Wales have been drunk at least four times, whilst 14 per cent of year 9 pupils and 31 per cent of year 11 pupils in Wales drink alcohol every week. Neither of these figures is mentioned in the report, either, and no source is given. I have searched Welsh Government statistics unsuccessfully.

English figures, however, are readily available in the annual report Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England, which shows for 2010 that 6 per cent of year 9 pupils in England drank at least once a week, and 20 per cent of year 11 pupils – much lower than the claims relating to Wales in the press release.

As for the numbers who have been drunk at least four times, this contradicts a set of figures cited in a 2008 report called A Profile of Alcohol and Health in Wales, accessible through Alcohol Concern Cymru website, which says that amongst year 9 pupils, 8 per cent per cent of boys and 4 per cent of girls in Wales reported that they have been drunk at least twice. Amongst 13-year olds in Wales this percentage rises to 27 per cent of boys and 26 per cent of girls.

The figures relate to 2005-06, and originate from a survey carried out every four years under WHO auspices called Health Behaviours in School-Age Children.

Though nothing to be proud of, the numbers are lower (and falling) and the frequency of drunkenness half what Alcohol Concern claim. They seem to be seeing double.