The percentage of adolescents between 13 and 17 years old who consume alcohol in Brazil increased between 2015 and 2019, according to a study by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), which surveyed 11.8 million students. Experts warn that the scenario may have worsened further over the course of the pandemic, although the data predates the health crisis.
Released this week, the National Survey of School Health (PeNSE) indicates that 63.3% of students interviewed had taken a dose of alcoholic beverage in 2019. Three years earlier, this rate was 61.4%.
Laura Cury, international relations advisor for the organization ACT Health Promotion, warns that the situation may have worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. She explains that other studies have already shown an increase in the use of alcohol in the general population and a greater presence of beverages in the home environment.
“The Brazilian consumption, which was predominantly done outside the home, has been changing its pattern with the pandemic. For children, this is particularly important, because the behaviors that are acquired in childhood and adolescence tend to be perpetuated in adulthood”.
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The specialist also states that the consequences of alcohol consumption are felt in the quality of life of young people, with social and economic impacts, “We need to look very carefully at these rates and rethink several issues to try to ease from here on.”
Also according to PeNSE 2019, 34.6% of all students surveyed had tried alcohol for the first time before 14 years of age. The indicator is higher among girls – 36.8%, against 32.3% among boys – which was not observed in 2015.
Intoxication episodes were reported by nearly half of the young people interviewed in the study. At least 15% had problems with family or friends, missed classes or had a fight, one or more times, because they had been drinking. Again, girls were the majority: 17.1% of respondents reported having experienced situations of this nature. Among boys, the rate was 14%.
Laura Cury believes that it is possible to observe a direct relationship between the increase in female consumption and the beverage industry’s advertising actions. “As alcohol was predominantly associated with the male gender, this was a market yet to be explored, almost 50% of the population could consume more. We encourage the use of alcohol through advertisements that relate this to empowerment and emancipation,” says the expert.
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Depression and bullying
PeNSE 2019 also consulted adolescents about family relationships, mental health conditions, abuse experiences and other social aspects.
In all, 23% of respondents reported having experienced cases of bullying. The situation affected the young women the most: the percentage of those who claimed to have gone through some humiliation situation in the 30 days prior to the interview was 26.5%. Among boys, the rate was 19.5%.
The problem extends to the online environment, with 13.2% of the young people interviewed responding that they experienced threats, offenses or humiliation on social networks. More than 1 million students stopped going to class because they felt unsafe on the way from home to school.
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The percentage of young people who reported having felt that life was not worth it at some point in the month prior to the interviews was 21.4%, 29.6% of girls and 13.0% of boys.
According to the data, 14.6% of young people have already experienced some type of sexual abuse or violence. The percentage of girls in this situation (20.1%) is more than double that observed for boys (9%).
“Alcohol, in addition to affecting neurological development, also ends up inciting these behaviors of bullying, violence, accidents, sexual abuse, even hindering the learning processes”, says Laura Cury.
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The specialist argues that, to face this scenario, it is necessary to implement public policies. The list includes actions such as the regulation of advertising and incentives for drinking on the internet, the control of establishments that sell alcohol near schools and the taxation of these products, so that they have less affordable prices.
“We manage to get around this situation with a favorable regulatory environment, which we still do not observe. So much so that we have seen in these various studies an increase in the prevalence of alcohol use. This points to the need for effective public policies”, he concludes the specialist.
Edition: Sarah Fernandes