Wealthier Teens More Likely to Drink Alcohol, U.K. Study Finds

Researchers in the U.K have found that teens from more affluent families are more likely to drink than teens in poverty, although having a mother with a higher level of education is a protective factor for teens at any income level, Reuters reported March 14.

The longitudinal study, led by Roberto Melotti of the University of Bristol, surveyed the mothers of 5,837 children when they were pregnant, and followed up with surveys of the children at age thirteen about their use of alcohol and tobacco.

After dividing up the respondents into five income groups and controlling for other socioeconomic factors, the researchers found that teens in the poorest group of families were 22 percent less likely than those in the middle income group to have tried alcohol or indulged in binge drinking in the past six months.

The study’s authors suggested that the difference might be explained by the fact that better-off families may have more access to alcohol.

The results ran contrary to studies of other behavior linked to health risks, which have tended to link lower socioeconomic status with a greater incidence of risky behavior. “More advantaged families tend to have healthier behavior,” Melotti said. “Our results indicate an example where this is not the case.”

Melotti and his colleagues also found that in families where the mother had a college degree, youth were 13 to 40 percent less likely to drink than kids whose mother did not, regardless of income level. They speculated that mothers with better educations could be more likely to emphasize the benefits of healthy lifestyle choices with their children.

In contrast, researchers found that kids from poorer families were more likely to have tried tobacco than kids from the wealthier demographics.

Melotti said the results were important, because early drinking signaled greater health problems later in life.

“Drinking at an early age,” he said, “has been related to a series of adverse outcomes, including the risk of developing alcohol-use disorders in later life.”

The study, “Adolescent Alcohol and Tobacco Use and Early Socioeconomic Position: The ALSPAC Birth Cohort,” appeared online March 14, 2011, in the journal Pediatrics.

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