As my CEO, Paul, makes clear, in our media release today about funding for prevention and early intervention through the public health grant, the UNICEF report on the health and well-being of children and young people shows us just how far we still have to travel when it comes to reducing the harm that drugs and alcohol are doing to children and young people.
It is however worth noting that the figures being used are (by necessity) from 2009/10 and so tell us nothing about whether the changes in policy by the current government have changed outcomes for children and young people.
There is good news on smoking where the UK ranks 7th (the higher the rank the better) out of 29 countries, with only 5.64% of young people saying they smoke once a week or more. But with alcohol and cannabis use the UK’s young people are taking more risks that two-thirds of the countries that are covered by the report.
For alcohol 1 in 5 (19.7%) of children aged 11, 13 and 15 report having been drunk at least twice, putting us 23rd of 29 countries. You may remember that research published earlier this year suggested that early drunkenness is associated with 5 other risky behaviours – smoking, cannabis use, injuries, fights, and low academic performance.
With cannabis the UK is 21st with just over 17% of 11, 13 and 15 who report having used cannabis in the last 12 months.
Much more positively this background paper that UNICEF have published allow us to look at the changes between their previous report and today’s. What this paper shows is that for smoking, drinking and cannabis use the UK has seen large falls in the prevalence rates – a 55% fall in the numbers smoking, a fall of 49% in cannabis use in the last year, and 35% fewer experiencing being drunk at least twice in their lives.
For alcohol and cannabis the UK reports the largest drops in use in those reporting for the two periods.
So there are huge positives that I think practitioners and policy makers can take from this report – what we did between 2001/2 and 2009/10 had very positive effects on the substance use of young people – but our children continue to take more risks with alcohol and cannabis than those from almost all other OECD countries.
This post has been slightly altered for clarity.