NEW figures have revealed an estimated 16,500 young people in the region are drinking alcohol every week.

Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, is calling for more to be done to protect young people following a report published by NHS Digital yesterday.

According the 2016 Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England report, 12 per cent of secondary school pupils in the region are drinking regularly, compared to ten per cent nationally. An estimated 9,300 children, meanwhile, have been drunk once or twice in the last four weeks.

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The data, which surveyed 11 to 15 year olds, also reveals that 49 per cent of children in the North-East – around 67,000 – have drunk alcohol in childhood, compared to 44 per cent nationally. This puts the region among the highest in the country, just behind the North-West at 50 per cent and on a level with Yorkshire and the Humber 49 per cent.

The figures conflict with the Chief Medical Officer’s guidance which recommends an alcohol-free childhood as the healthiest and best option and, if children do drink, it should not be at least until the age of 15.

Colin Shevills, director of Balance, said: “It’s time that the alcohol industry stops sending out dangerous messages to young people normalising alcohol consumption and suggesting alcohol is needed to have fun and be popular. In reality alcohol makes children and young people vulnerable by encouraging poor decisions they can later regret. It also exposes them to a range of long-term health risks, including an increased risk of developing at least seven different types of cancer.”