2004: Little Progress In Reducing Underage Drinking

2004: Little Progress In Reducing Underage Drinking
Washington, D.C. -- February 23, 2005 -- The nation made little, if any, progress in 2004 in reducing the number-one drug problem among youth, according to a new status report on underage drinking released today by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at Georgetown University.

Among the recent research findings cited in CAMY's status report:

  • 7,000 youth under the age of 16 take up drinking every day. 
  • Nearly one in five eighth-graders, more than one in three 10th-graders, and nearly one out of every two 12th-graders were current drinkers in 2004. There was a significant increase in beer consumption between 2003 and 2004 for eighth- and 10th-graders. Distilled spirits consumption also increased among 12th-graders between 2003 and 2004, although it was not statistically significant. 
  • An estimated 4,554 people under the age of 21 die each year due to excessive alcohol use. 
  • Incidence of the onset of alcohol dependence peaks by age 18, showing alcohol addiction to be a developmental disease.

To produce this report, CAMY reviewed epidemiological data and research on underage drinking released in 2004. In September 2003, the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine (NRC/IOM) called for the Department of Health and Human Services to publish an annual report on underage drinking.

To date, HHS has not published such a report. CAMY's report also charts federal inaction on several other recommendations made to Congress by the NRC/IOM as part of its September 2003 national strategy to reduce underage drinking.

On February 16, a bipartisan, bicameral group of federal legislators introduced the "STOP Underage Drinking Act," an important step toward implementing the NRC/IOM recommendations. It mandates an annual report from HHS, greater cooperation on the issue within the federal government, a media campaign about underage drinking aimed at adults, and the collection of better data on youth alcohol brand preferences and exposure to alcohol advertising.

"We have a huge public health crisis in this country with our kids drinking, and as a nation we are in denial," said David Jernigan, CAMY's research director. "The NRC/IOM made a simple recommendation: Reach out to parents. Tell them we have a problem and need to act. Instead, we take this information and bury it in a footnote here and there."

CAMY's report brings together the national research that is currently reported piecemeal. As such, it is designed as a template for the type of "annual report" recommended to Congress by the NRC/IOM.

"Under the new leadership of Secretary Leavitt, the Department of Health and Human Services has a historic opportunity to help protect children and adolescents from the dangers of underage drinking," said Jim O'Hara, CAMY executive director. "Public health is all about leadership, as we have seen time and again in the case of the Surgeons General and tobacco. We hope Secretary Leavitt will join the members of Congress who have already stepped up to the plate to help prevent underage drinking."

The report's federal scorecard found that, other than an interagency coordinating committee, which was formed by SAMHSA in 2004 and has issued a draft plan of action without a budget, there has been no progress made on most of the NRC/IOM's September 2003 recommendations. The NRC/IOM's national strategy was published as a report titled "Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility."

About the Center 

The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University monitors the marketing practices of the alcohol industry to focus attention and action on industry practices that jeopardize the health and safety of America's youth. The Center is supported by grants from The Pew Charitable Trusts and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.