Health Minister Sophie Lohde expressed concerns of Danish society over alcohol harm in young people, as per Medical Express reporting.
In response, the legal age limit for purchasing alcoholic beverages with more than 6% of alcohol by volume will be raised to 18, from the current age limit of 16 years. Until now 16-year-olds could buy alcohol beverages containing up to 16.5% of alcohol, Medical Express reports.
According to national health authorities, 22% of girls and 27% of boys engage in alcohol consumption weekly by the age of 15.
In 2019, the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) estimated that 40% of 15-to-16-year-old Danes had been inebriated in the past month – the highest rate in Europe, where the average was 13%.
Movendi International reported on government plans to improve youth protection against alcohol harm already in March 2023.
So far, Danish young people above 16 years of age could buy alcohol products with an alcohol content of less than 16.5% from retail stores. This comprised mostly beer and wine products. For alcohol products with alcohol content over 16.5%, the minimum age is 18 years. However, in bars and restaurants, the minimum legal age for serving alcohol is 18 years regardless of alcohol content.
Alcohol use and harm in young Danes
According to WHO Europe in 2016, among Danish youth between 15 to 19 years, about half of boys (50.6%) and over one-tenth of girls (14.9%) engaged in binge alcohol consumption.
15.9% of Danish youth between 15 to 19 years of age die due to alcohol.
In Denmark, young people grow up in a society with a heavy alcohol burden, exposed to the products, such as ultra-cheap high-strength products targeting youth, and practices, such as predatory marketing, of the alcohol without almost any protection.
As the World Health Organization (WHO) reports, in 2016 Denmark had a total per capita alcohol consumption of 10.4 liters – which is above the average in the WHO European region, the heaviest alcohol consuming region in the world.
Among adults who consume alcohol, men use 19.5 liters per capita.
Due to this high amount of population-level alcohol consumption and the lack of evidence-based alcohol policy solutions, people and communities in Denmark face pervasive alcohol harm.
- For example, 10.9% of Danish men experience alcohol use disorder and 5.6% are alcohol dependent.
- More than 900 people die from cancer due to alcohol.
- And more than 500 people die from liver cirrhosis due to alcohol, every year.
Pervasive alcohol harm among Danish youth and in Danish society
Alcohol is a leading risk factor to adolescent health.
To understand better how alcohol harms Danish youth, researchers conducted a prospective cohort study including 71,025 Danish students aged 15 to 24 years, over a period of five years from 2014 to 2019. What they found is astonishing.
- Approximately 90% of males and females reported consuming alcohol, and the median intake among those was 11 alcoholic drinks per week in males and 8 alcoholic drinks per week in females.
- During five years of follow-up, 1.3% had an alcohol-attributable hospital contact, the majority of which were due to acute intoxication (70%).
- Alcohol-attributable hospital contacts were equally frequent in males and females and between age groups (15–17-year-olds vs 18–24-year-olds).
- Compared with never alcohol consumption, the adjusted incidence rate ratios for weekly intake of <7, between 7–13, 14–20, 21–27, and >27 alcoholic drinks per week were 1.70, 1.91, 2.34, and 3.25 for having an alcohol-attributable hospital contact within five years of follow-up.
- During the five years of follow-up, 27% incurred an unintentional injury.
- The most frequent types of injury were to the wrist or hand (27.6%), ankle or foot (25.2%), or head (12.4%).
- Injuries were more frequent among males compared to females, with no differences between age groups.
- Compared with never alcohol consuming, the adjusted incidence rate ratios for weekly intake of <7, between 7–13, 14–20, 21–27, and >27 alcoholic drinks were 1.09, 1.14, 1.25, 1.38, and 1.58 for having a hospital contact for any type of unintentional injury within five years of follow-up.
This shows that alcohol use among adolescents in Denmark is linked with a higher risk of acute harm in terms of hospital contacts due to alcohol and unintentional injuries in a dose–response relationship. Thus, increased risk was apparent in adolescents with low alcohol intake.
It is clear that Denmark has a need for greater awareness of and initiatives to prevent youth alcohol use.
The researchers say that initiatives should include a strengthened focus on people younger than 18 years.