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Smoking and drinking among children at lowest recorded rate in decades

Results from the Health Survey for England (HSE) for 2015 show a continuous decline in smoking and drinking among children.

The figures released today (14 December) by NHS Digital, show that the proportion of eight to 15-year-olds who reported that they had ever smoked a cigarette has decreased from 19% in 2003 to 4% in 2015.

Young children are still being affected by other people’s smoke, however. Cotinine, a biomarker for exposure to tobacco smoke, was detected in 34% of male and 38% of female non-smokers aged four to 15, indicating subjection to second-hand smoke.

Alcohol consumption

It was also found that 16% of children aged eight to 15 reported ever having consumed an alcoholic drink. This is the lowest level ever reported since the HSE began, down from the highest point of 45% in 2003.

Regular drinking among children was rare. However, the proportion that reported drinking once a week or more increased from boys and girls aged eight (less than 1%) to 5% of boys and 4% of girls aged 15.

The HSE gathers information from adults and children to monitor trends in the nation's health and social care. In the most recent survey, the number of 2 to 15-year-olds included was increased to improve the focus on children’s health issues.

Questions about cigarette smoking were collected via self-completion questionnaire by children to ensure greater privacy and encourage honest answers.

Obese and overweight

Obesity and weight problems continue to present one of the most serious concerns for young people’s health in the UK. In 2015, 14% of children aged 2 to 15 were overweight and a further 14% were obese.

The proportion of boys who were overweight or obese (30%) was higher than the proportion of girls (26%).

Although the surveys show that the prevalence of childhood obesity in England increased between 1995, when it was first measured, and 2005, it has remained relatively stable at between 14-17% since 2008.

Children from lower income households are more likely to be obese compared with those from higher income households. In 2015 18% of children from the lowest income quintile were obese, compared with 9% of children from the highest income quintile.

Just over one in five (22%) of children in the five to 15 age group met the physical activity guidelines of being moderately active for at least 60 minutes every day.

It was also found that adult smoking has fallen from 28% in 1998 to 18% in 2015. The prevalence of adult obesity has remained fairly constant, between 24-27% from 2010 to 2015.

In 2015, 83% of adults had consumed alcohol in the last 12 months. This figure has remained between 82-84% since 2011.