cares alcohol-and-health reflections-on-decline-in-youth-drinking-why-are-we-surprised-

Reflections on decline in youth drinking - why are we surprised?

Earlier this year Eurocare had the opportunity to participate in the Thematic Meeting of the Kettil Bruun Society in Krakow (Poland) focusing on youth drinking in decline.

Reflections of the conference centred around the reasons for the decline in mainly high-income countries and the implications of this fall among young people for public health and public policy debate.

The answer to the first part of the question seems self-evident, since alcohol is a contributory factor to over 200 diseases, then a decrease in consumption will result in improved public health.

Younger people are drinking less, and early alcohol initiation has declined in most countries and regions. On average we can see that early alcohol initiation across all countries and regions declined from 46% in 2002 to 28% in 2014. Similarly, early drunkenness more than halved, from 17% to 8%, over this period. The biggest changes in early initiation of alcohol and drunkenness were seen in the Nordic and Ireland/Great Britain subregions, which had the highest prevalence in 2002. Less change was seen in the southern Europe/ Mediterranean subregion.

At the same time WHO 2018 reports that alcohol is still a major risk factor for premature mortality. Every day in EU/EEA around 800 people die from alcohol attributable causes (291.000 per year).

Young people are dis-proportionally affected by alcohol. While 5,5% of all deaths in a population are alcohol attributable, but:

  • 19% or every 5th death in the age group 15-19 are alcohol attributable
  • 23,3% or every 4th in the age group 20-24 are alcohol attributable.

For the last 20 years there has been a consistent focus on preventing alcohol consumption among young people in Europe. It started with WHO Europe: Declaration on Young People and Alcohol, 2001 and was followed up by Council Recommendation 2001/458/EC of 5 June 2001 on the drinking of alcohol by young people, children and adolescents. This recommendation called for the development of a strategy to tackle the problems caused by alcohol abuse among children and adolescents. The EU Alcohol Strategy to support Member States in reducing alcohol related harm was adopted in 2006 and the first point was to “protect young people, children and the unborn child”. The EU Strategy was followed up by the Action Plan on Youth Drinking and on heavy episodic drinking (binge drinking) 2014-2016.

Within the EU framework there has been several publications and more than 33 projects on alcohol were funded by the EU through its Health Programme financing strand – not counting projects on alcohol originating from the research funding stream of the EU’s budget. Nearly all of them had some focus on young people.

The average minimum legal age for purchasing alcohol has risen across Europe to 18 years, apart from Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, Malta and Switzerland. However, several of these countries do differentiate between beer and spirit and have age limit of 18 for spirit drinks.

Drink driving has been addressed in almost all European countries and legal Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) levels have increased.

Stricter regulations for commercial communication have been implemented in nearly all Member States. France was for a long time the champion in Europe on restrictions of alcohol marketing (with the Loi Evin which only permits factual information for alcohol adverts), but in the last years Lithuania and Estonia (with alcohol advertising bans) have followed. Lately, Ireland also presented its intention to strengthen the legislation in the Alcohol Bill.

It is therefore interesting to note our surprise that young people are drinking less. It is as if we don’t believe the policies, we for years have been calling for – really work.

Evidence is now telling us we are on the right path – but there is still a long way to go before alcohol harm is no longer a problem in Europe.

With the WHO European Action plan on alcohol expiring next year and the new European Commission in place, we are hoping for a new alcohol policy framework at the European level fit for the challenges ahead.

A brief overview

EU Projects:

2017 – 2020 - Focus on Youth, Football and Alcohol [F.Y.F.A.]
2017 – 2019 - Local Strategies to Reduce Underage and Heavy Episodic Drinking [Localize It]
2016 – 2018 - Raising awareness and action-research on Heavy Episodic Drinking among low income youth and young adults in Southern Europe [ALLCOOL]
2017 - The Estonian Presidency: a conference on Cross-Border Aspects in Alcohol Policy - Tackling Harmful Use [EE-PCY]
2016 – 2019 - STAD in Europe [SIE] project aims to tackle heavy episodic drinking by restricting the availability of alcohol
2014 - 6th European Alcohol Policy Conference [6EAPC]
2014 - Eurocare_FY2014 [Eurocare_FY2014]
2013 – 2016 - Empowering the Youth Sector with a better overview of evidence-based Alcohol intervention programmes [Let it hAPYN!]
2013 - Eurocare_FY2013 [Eurocare_FY2013]
2012 – 2015 - Good practice on brief interventions to address alcohol use disorders in primary health care, workplace health services, emergency care and social services [BISTAIRS]
2012 - European Council on Alcohol Rehabilitation Research and Education [Eurocare_FY2012]
2011 - European Alcohol Policy Alliance [Eurocare_FY2011]
2011 – 2013 - European Workplace and Alcohol [EWA]
2010 – 2012 - Boys and Girls - An interactive web-based series to promote healthy lifestyles among European adolescents [Boys and Girls]
2010 - Alcohol Policy - From capacity to Action [4th EAPC] Eurocare
2010 – 2012 - Strategies towards responsible alcohol consumption for adolescents in Europe [TAKE CARE]
2009 – 2011 - Alcohol Policy Youth Network - Youth Empowerment for a Better Life! [APYN]
2009 – 2011 - Monitoring Alcohol Commercial Communications in Europe [AMMIE]
2009 – 2012 – Club Health – Healthy and safer nightlife of youth [CLUB HEALTH]
2009 – 2011 - Alcohol labelling policies to protect young people [PROTECT]
2008 – 2010 - Standardizing Measurement of Alcohol Related Troubles [SMART]
2008 – 2010 - Focus on Alcohol Safe Environment [FASE]
2007 – 2010 - Reducing harm and building capacities for children affected by parental alcohol problems in Europe [ChAPAPs]
2007 – 2010 - Implementing Coordinated Alcohol Policy in Europe [Building Capacity]
2006 – 2009 - Physical Activity, Nutrition, Alcohol, Cessation of smoking, Eating out of home and obesity [PANACEA]
2006 – 2008 - To Empower the Community in response to Alcohol Threats [ECAT]
2006 – 2009 - Improvement of access to treatment for people with alcohol- and drug-related problems [IATPAD]
2006 – 2009 - PHEPA Project on disseminating brief interventions on alcohol problems Europe wide [PHEPA]
2006 – 2007 - Pathways for Health Project on drink driving, binge drinking, health warnings and labeling for alcoholic beverages [PHP]
2006 – 2009 - PEER-education-project for young drivers to prevent alcohol and drugs in connection with road use - Drive Clean! - [ Peer Drive Clean]
2005 – 2007 - Enforcement of national Laws and Self-regulation on advertising and marketing of Alcohol [ELSA]
2003 – 2006 - Alcohol Policy Network in the Context of a Larger Europe: Bridging the Gap [EUROCARE]

EU Publications:

EU 2003 – Health, Food and Alcohol and Safety, Eurobarometer
EU 2006 – Alcohol in Europe – a public health perspective
EU 2007 – Attitudes towards alcohol, Eurobarometer
EU 2009 - Does marketing communication impact on the volume and patterns of consumption of alcoholic beverages, especially by young people? - a review of longitudinal studies, Science Group of the European Alcohol and Health Forum
EU 2009 – European Alcohol and Health Forum - Mapping Exercise Report on Targeting/Not Targeting Youth
EU 2009 - European Alcohol and Health Forum - Mapping Exercise Report on Self-Regulation
EU 2009 - European Alcohol and Health Forum - Mapping Exercise Report on Social Marketing
EU 2010 - EU citizens attitudes towards alcohol, Eurobarometer
EU 2012 - An overview of the market for alcoholic beverages of potentially particular appeal to minors Specific Services No EAHC/2010/Health/14 Specific Contract No 2010 62 91
EU 2012 - Assessment of young people’s exposure to alcohol marketing in audio-visual and online media, RAND
EU 2012 – Further study on the affordability of alcoholic beverages in the EU
EU 2013 - Eyes on Ages A research on alcohol age limit policies in European Member States. Legislation, enforcement and research (Tender) Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy (STAP)
EU 2014 - State of play in the use of alcoholic beverage labels to inform consumers about health aspects (GfK)
EU 2015 - RARHA Report on consumer’s perceptions and understanding standard drinks and drinking guidelines
EU 2016 - RARHA Report on Evidence-based good practices to reduce alcohol-related harm
EU 2016 - RARHA Report on Comparative monitoring of alcohol epidemiology across the EU
EU 2019 - The benefit of EU action in health policy: The record to date European Added Value in Action, European Parliament

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