Australia behind the pack in tracking youth binge drinking
DESPITE all the concern in Australia about teenage binge drinking, the nation is not even collecting internationally comparable data on the problem, a researcher says.
Professor George Patton, from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Melbourne, has completed an analysis of global youth health, finding up to one in five adolescents in high income countries were drinking at least weekly.
Austria and Ireland had the highest rates of binge drinking, and England was the fourth highest on the list for individuals who had ever been drunk by the age of 13 years.
But Australia could not be ranked because comparable figures were not available, Professor Patton said.
“We are a data-rich country in many ways but we cannot make easy comparisons about the health risks our adolescents face compared to the rest of the world,” Professor Patton said.
“Sometimes we even have trouble making comparisons across the states.”
In a Lancet series published to coincide with the 45th session of the United Nations Commission on Population Development, Professor Patton and Professor Susan Sawyer warned adolescent health needed to receive more attention or the world will pay a price in declining adult wellbeing and productivity.
Adolescents and young adults comprise a quarter of the worlds’ population at a time of increasing concern about mental health and non-communicable diseases driven by obesity and substance use, they said.
“At least 70% of premature adult deaths reflect behaviours started or reinforced in adolescence,” they noted in a Lancet commentary.
With changing societal norms, such as children staying at home longer and marrying or “settling down” later, young people had more opportunity to indulge in behaviour that could harm their health such as unsafe sex and alcohol or drug misuse.
Engagement with social media and new technologies was a health issue with unknown long-term consequences, the experts said, with young people susceptible to decreased physical activity and sleep deprivation as well as cyber bulling and sexting.
The series showed that Australia was ranked 13th for mortality from any cause among young people (ages 10 to 24 years) with the US having the highest rate out of 27 high income countries, followed by New Zealand and Portugal.
Lancet 2012; online 25 April