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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Drunkenness has become more common among Eastern European teenagers and particularly girls in the past decade as alcohol marketing reaches new audiences, according to Swiss research.
A study looking at nearly 80,000 15-year-olds in 23 countries found overall teens had been drunk on average two to three times but it was becoming less common in Western countries.
However Dr. Emmanuel Kuntsche of Addiction Info Switzerland, Research Institute, in Lausanne and his colleagues found more girls, particularly in Eastern Europe, are drinking to excess.
"While alcohol consumption might have appeared to be part of a new and attractive lifestyle element to adolescents in Eastern Europe, during the same period alcohol consumption and drunkenness may have lost some of their appeal to a formerly high-consuming group, (primarily) boys in Western Europe and North America," the researchers said in a statement.
The researchers said social control of leisure time and lack of alcohol marketing behind the Iron Curtain had seemed to keep adolescent drunkenness down.
But in the 1990s, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, increasingly aggressive marketing of alcohol likely helped contribute to an increase in adolescent alcohol use during that decade.
"Across all seven Eastern European countries, the average frequency of drunkenness increased about 40 percent over the 10-year study period," the researchers said.
The frequency of drunkenness declined in 13 of 16 Western countries by an average of 25 percent. Boys reported getting drunk an average of 2.5 times, down from 3 times, and girls reported a drop to 2 from 2.5 times.
While gender differences narrowed overall, in most countries -- except for Greenland, Norway, and Britain -- boys still reported getting drunk more often than girls.
In some Western countries, alcohol use by teen girls has been on the rise, "possibly owing to changes in gender roles," the researchers added in their study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
The study was based on surveys conducted at high schools in 1997/1998 and 2005/2006 including a total of 77,586 adolescents.
The researchers said the findings showed "a cultural convergence and a gender convergence in adolescent drunkenness occurred across countries and subgroups" with adolescents more uniform in terms of how often they drank to excess.
"Global marketing appears to have succeeded in increasing excessive alcohol consumption among adolescents in Eastern Europe," they noted.
At the same time the saturation of alcohol advertising in the West may have made drinking seem "conformist and traditional."
Based on the findings, the researchers said Eastern European countries should emphasize public health approaches to discourage drunkenness such as increasing taxes on alcohol and restricting alcohol advertising.
They suggested Western countries could further reduce drinking by promoting leisure time activities that don't involve alcohol.
"The gender convergence implies that prevention policy should be less exclusively focused on male adolescents," they said.
Reporting by Reuters Health, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith