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June 01, 2017

Troubling trend: Pennsylvania children who drink somewhat regularly

PLCB report looks at binge drinking by students

A biennial report out Wednesday from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board highlights a troubling trend: alcohol use by children.

The report, required by law to detail trends in underage and high-risk drinking and prevention strategies, shows that Pennsylvania children between the ages of 8 and 10 are giving alcohol a try and drinking somewhat routinely.

That finding was among the results of the 2015 Pennsylvania Youth Survey, which surveyed more than 200,000 students in public and private schools statewide to measure the need for prevention services among youth in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12. The anonymous and confidential survey questions youth about the factors that place them at risk for substance use and other problem behaviors, as well as factors that offer them protection from problem behaviors.

Not all school districts participate in the PAYS survey, including the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh public school districts.

Using data from PAYS and national sources, the report indicates about 1 in 6 Pennsylvania sixth-graders said they have at least tried alcohol.

“Perhaps most troubling is the number of children eight, nine, and 10 years old – kids traditionally thought of as way too young to drink – who are trying alcohol and even drinking on a somewhat regular basis," PLCB Chairman Tim Holden said in a statement. "Whether that trend is inspired by increased consumption among adult populations or other factors, we don’t know, but these are important issues for the PLCB and public health and education communities to explore."

Pennsylvania is below the national average for reported binge drinking by eighth- and 10th-grade students, and there was a reduction in such drinking among 10th- and 12th-graders from 2013 to 2015, the report shows. (The survey defined "binge drinking” as consuming five or more drinks in a row at least once in the past two weeks.)

Statewide, 7.8 percent of students in participating counties reported engaging in binge drinking in the last two weeks. Locally, only Bucks County exceeded the state average, at 8.8 percent. (Montgomery, 7.7 percent; Chester, 7.6 percent; and Delaware, 6.2 percent, with no data available for Philadelphia).

The state average of students' willingness to try alcohol was 27.3 percent. Again, Bucks County was the only local county participating in the survey to exceed the state average, at 28.8 percent. (Montgomery, 27.2 percent; Chester, 26.4 percent; and Delaware, 21.4 percent, with no data available for Philadelphia).

"Heavy alcohol consumption is no laughing matter...." the report said. "Particularly in a changing beverage alcohol landscape like Pennsylvania – where kids have just recently been exposed to wine and beer in grocery stores before they see the fruits and vegetables – normalization of heavy drinking among adults perpetuates the problem and will certainly impact the next generation of drinkers and their alcohol use and abuse habits."

The PLCB cites efforts such as an annual poster contest, college resident assistant training and more than $1 million in grants aimed at deterring alcohol use.

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