Children as young as eleven are drinking the equivalent of nearly two bottles of wine a week, according to a new survey of England’s regional drinking habits.
The survey, released by the NHS Information Centre, measured the average alcohol consumption figures for children based on those who had drunk alcohol in the last week.
The survey, conducted between 2006 and 2008, revealed that the North East was the worst performing region in England, with one in four 11 to 15-year-olds drinking.
Children who drink in the North East consume an average of nearly two bottles of wine a week or eight pints of lager, although the survey also revealed that the region’s young people were the least likely to have taken cannabis.
The average consumption for England was equivalent to five pints of lager per week.
However, the survey did also show that there has been a slight decline in the number of children who have ever consumed alcohol.
In 2006 55% of children claimed to have had at least one drink in their lives, but in 2008 this figure had marginally decreased to 52%.
The findings prompted warnings that underage binge drinking is damaging young people’s health.
Professor Ian Gilmore, the president of the Royal College of Physicians, warned that teen drinking had moved from “experimentation” into “more dangerous territory”.
He said: “Regular consumption at these levels, especially when compressed into heavy sessions at the weekend puts boys and girls at considerable risk.
He added: “At this age the adolescent mind is still developing, and for an unlucky minority heavy drinking so early will have profound and long lasting implications for their learning and problem solving skills.
“Tougher penalties for those found to be selling alcohol to youngsters are welcome, but parents and families also have a responsibility to help their offspring make healthy choices.
His concerns were echoed by Don Shenker, the Chief Executive of Alcohol Concern, who said: “Today’s figures are very worrying. We’re seeing a slight decline in the number of children who drink, but those who do drink are drinking much more.
He added: “We’ve already seen an almost one thousand per cent increase in liver cirrhosis deaths in the 25-44 age group. This is impacting our health services and the lives of families across the UK.”
Mr Shenker urged the Government to introduce minimum pricing on alcohol to combat the problem.
However, earlier this month the Prime Minister’s spokesman ruled out imposing minimum pricing on alcohol despite fresh warnings over the dangers posed to the nation by binge drinking.
Last year Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, said that parents shouldn’t let their children drink any alcohol.