Evidence-based alcohol education will have positive impact on young people’s lives

Opening of Centre for Crime, Harm Prevention & Security/ Dorothy Newbury-Birch

A Teesside University professor whose research has highlighted the risks of alcohol among young people has welcomed plans to make alcohol education compulsory in secondary schools.

Professor Dorothy Newbury-Birch, from the University’s School of Social Sciences, Humanities & Law, worked alongside the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to help update its guidelines on alcohol interventions in secondary and further education.

The NICE recommendations, published this month, support the Department of Education’s plan to make alcohol education a compulsory part of personal, social and health education (PSHE) in all state-funded English schools from September.

Developed with Public Health England, the NICE recommendations advise a positive approach to alcohol education, inviting classroom discussion and wider policies to embed a ‘whole school approach’.

Although alcohol consumption among young people has reduced in recent years, NICE’s independent guideline committee recognised that risky drinking is still an issue for many young people and that some pupils may be more vulnerable to alcohol misuse.

Professor Newbury-Birch has led a number of studies on risky drinking behaviour and the harmful effects of alcohol consumption among young people.

Together with colleagues in Teesside University’s Centre for Crime, Harm Prevention and Security, Professor Newbury-Birch’s research was included as evidence to NICE to help inform its guidance and she was one of a number of experts called upon to review the recommendations.

She was able to draw from her own research which has found that 60% of young people under the age of 17 are given alcohol by their parents and that giving children alcohol before the age of 15 has proven to be detrimental to their future health.

Professor Newbury-Birch said: “Early intervention is crucial in terms of effective and impactful alcohol education and I wholeheartedly welcome the new guidelines which will see alcohol education made compulsory in secondary schools from September next year.

“Risky drinking can be an issue for young people and some pupils may be more vulnerable to alcohol misuse than others. It was great to be able to draw on research carried out at Teesside University to help inform the NICE recommendations and one of the key points that we have stressed is that alcohol should not be looked at in isolation.

“We stressed the need for a whole school approach, involving parents, teachers and practitioners, and looking at alcohol alongside other areas, including relationship and sex education.”

Joanne Boyd, from Humankind, which provides the County Durham Drug and Alcohol Recovery Service, was also invited by NICE to give expert advice.

Joanne, who is at the beginning of a six-month secondment with the University’s Centre for Crime, Harm Prevention and Security, said: “For young people to leave school with healthy lives ahead of them, they need to be educated so they can make informed choices and be aware of the consequences of alcohol consumption.

“These guidelines will help ensure that alcohol education isn’t a one-off topic, and that schools provide age-appropriate and accurate information.”

Professor Gillian Leng, Deputy Chief Executive of NICE, said: “There are many examples of schools that deliver very good alcohol education. The updated NICE guideline reinforces best practice and helps schools provide alcohol education that fits into the new era of PSHE.

“We have also made a number of research recommendations to help develop the evidence base for the future, in an area that is vital in helping young people make informed, healthy decisions.”