Health authority to revise recommendations to tackle teen drinking head-on

Parliamentary majority in place to raise the legal age to buy alcohol from 16 to 18, but right-wing parties are sceptical it is the right approach

Danish teenagers have long had a reputation for being the heaviest drinkers in Europe. Rites of passage such as getting slaughtered on May 1, on school trips to Prague and at the Roskilde Festival are part and parcel of most normal Danish upbringings.

And the law and big business make it easier than ever to get drunk. Over-16s are legally permitted to buy alcohol in shops, provided they don’t have a content in excess of 16.5 percent. Manufacturers cynically produce drinks with a content just below the margin, aimed exclusively at the age group.

But now the Sundhedsstyrelsen health authority has had enough. The science suggests that under-18s should not drink alcohol, it reasons. It is detrimental to the youngsters’ health – both now and in the future – and the cause of escalating violence and even deaths.

At present, drinking is the norm among the age group: 74 percent of children in Denmark aged 15-16 have drunk  alcohol within the last 30 days, compared to a European average of 37 percent.

Health Authority: It affects brain power
Sundhedsstyrelsen is accordingly issuing new guidelines regarding the consumption of alcohol by under-18s – following recent calls by Coop to end under-18 sales, this might prove to be the final impetus for the government to take action.

The health minister, Magnus Heunicke is already on the same hymn-sheet as the health authority, agreeing it is the right time to update the 2010 guidelines. 

“If young people under the age of 18 have a regular consumption of alcohol, it can affect their brains into adulthood, so they get a poorer memory, reduced ability to learn and poorer impulse control,” he explained to DR.

“Even with relatively low levels of alcohol, we can see a negative effect on the brains of young people. At 20 units a month, the consequences become clear.”

READ MORE: Danish supermarket chain wants new age limit for alcohol sales

Alkohol & Samfund: Change is long overdue
Plans are accordingly afoot to radically change the drinking culture of teens in Denmark, and Ida Fabricius Bruun, the head of interest group Alkohol & Samfund, contends it is long overdue. 

“The professional recommendation can be a lever to postpone the age they try out alcohol for the first time, reduce consumption and ensure that future generations experience fewer accidents and fewer alcohol injuries,” she said. 

“But, of course, it requires that parents know the recommendations and that the legislation is followed. It should not be possible for young people to buy alcohol from shops.”

Right wing parties: Education better than legislation
Denmark is one of only five European countries where over-16s are permitted to buy alcohol in shops. In most countries, the limit is 18; in Finland, it is 20.

According to a 2021 Epinion poll on behalf of Kræftens Bekæmpelse, the public back raising the limit to 18. And it is believed a parliamentary majority are also in favour of raising the limit.

Nevertheless, right-wing parties Nye Borgerlige and Dansk Folkeparti doubt a change in legislation will stop teens drinking, arguing that more education will have a greater impact.

Left-wing party SF, which remains undecided, would like to see the 16.5 percent limit lowered to 6 percent. 

Sundhedsstyrelsen: Time to equalise limits for men and women
In related news, Sundhedsstyrelsen also intends to revise limits for adults, and for the first time it is suggesting that men should not be permitted to drink more alcohol units than women.

It advises a maximum of ten units per week, and no more than four in one session. Previously it recommended a limit of seven units for women and 14 for men.  

The risk of dying from alcohol-related diseases is approximately the same for both sexes, contends Sundhedsstyrelsen.

Alcohol consumption causes the premature deaths of approximately 3,000 people a year in Denmark.