As the world marked the “No Alcohol Day” on Oct. 2, a study has warned that underage drinking has become a serious problem in Hong Kong, particularly as it involves school children.
In some cases, children as young as nine or ten reported that they had experiences with alcoholic beverages, according to a survey conducted by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU).
The study on young people’s drinking habits revealed that peer pressure was the main reason for people experimenting with alcohol at an early age.
In findings that are bound to trigger alarm among parents and regulatory authorities, 38 percent of Form Three students from secondary schools admitted that they had tasted an alcoholic drink.
The youngest drinker among the group was just 8.3 years old.
For its survey, PolyU interviewed over 840 Secondary Three students in an attempt to understand their drinking habits, Headline Daily reports.
Over 168 respondents said they had a drink within the past 30 days, the study revealed. Around 60 percent of the interviewed students said their first contact with alcohol happened at home.
The study concluded that peer influence is the key cause for the drinking problems among youngsters.
If a student has friends who drink, their chances of drinking will be 32.8 times higher than those who do not. Those who drink habitually generally are late for school more often and tend to miss out on homework.
Professor Frances Wong from the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences at PolyU, who was in charge of the study, said many young people underestimate the harms that alcohol can inflict on the body.
Chan Ming-wai, director of the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine, points out that alcohol can hinder brain development, causing problems for teens in their studies.
He also said that the earlier that one starts drinking, the higher are the chances of alcohol addiction.
Noting that long-term intake can cause liver problems and heart diseases, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has said that it is vital to uproot the problem of teenage drinking.
Dr. Mak Sin-ping, former director of the Hong Kong College of Community medicine, said the government must study policies implemented by some developed nations to prevent teens from buying alcoholic drinks.
Also, steps could be taken with regard to product labeling to remind the youth of the dangers of drinking, he said.
Chan Man-Ho, supervisor at the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Group Youth Crime Prevention Centre, said that he has seen cases where children around 13 or 14 years in age had sought to conduct celebrations with alcohol, deeply influenced by their peers as well as the general drinking culture in Hong Kong.
He added that many youngsters do not know their limits and that there had been some cases of sexual assaults involving drunk teens, Sky Post reports.
Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man reiterated Sunday that bars and restaurants are not allowed sell alcohol to minors.
Commenting on retail stores that do not have limitations on selling alcohol to minors, Ko said his department will look into the matter and try to take remedial measures.
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