What the youth can teach older Kiwis about safe drinking

The alcohol industry says headlines painting a grim picture of our drinking habits have overshadowed the good news in the data - that young people nowadays drink much more sensibly than their parents.

Earlier this week, Alcohol Healthwatch director Nicki Jackson told Newshub the country had reached "peak booze".

Ministry of Health statistics show nearly 800,000 Kiwis engage in hazardous drinking - defined as six or more standard drinks in a single session.

"For the older groups, hazardous drinking is now higher than it was back in 2006/07," said Dr Jackson. "Our older drinkers are some of the heaviest drinkers in the world."

The AM Show
Nick Leggett. Photo credit: The AM Show

But at the other end, it's a different story. Hazardous drinking amongst people aged 15 to 17 continues to drop. In 2016/17 Ministry of Health statistics show only 7.6 percent of that age group drank hazardously.

"Kiwis should feel encouraged there's not as much harm from alcohol abuse," Nick Leggett of the NZ Alcohol Beverage Council told The AM Show on Thursday. "People cherry-pick the stats and tell porkies."

Overall, the latest stats show 19.5 percent of Kiwi adults engage in hazardous drinking, down from 20.8 percent the year before. The percentage of adults who drink has dropped from 83.6 percent in 2006 to 79.3 percent; for teens aged 15-17, it's plummeted from 74.5 to 56.3 percent over that same time period.

Mr Leggett said the fact young people are choosing to drink less, and delay their first drink, bodes well for the future - and their parents and grandparents could learn a thing or two from them.

"We want to understand why young people are making more sensible choices around alcohol and a lot of things in life, and work out how we can spread that out to the rest of the population, and educate and make more people aware."

Todd Muller.
Todd Muller. Photo credit: The AM Show

National MP Todd Muller has seen the change happen first-hand. Before the 49-year-old became an MP he used to work in Parliament - he once shared a plane with The AM Show's Duncan Garner, and the pair reminisced about regularly getting on the piss while on the job.

"If you compare Parliament from those days in the mid-90s… versus today, it's night and day," Mr Muller told him. "It's a far more responsible and I'd argue productive place because of it."

He's now put his hand up to be the face of responsible drinking in Parliament - not abstinence, but just taking it easy.

"I suspect most New Zealanders, if they're honest, there's probably a few times in their life they've looked in the mirror and said, 'I'm not sure I've got the balance right here.'"

Mr Leggett says Mr Muller's doing the right thing.

"What we know is you can drink and be healthy, but it's how much you drink. The good news is New Zealanders are drinking less -that  has happened over the decades particularly among young people."


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