LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Parents should not let their children drink any alcohol until they are 15, the British government said on Thursday after a review of medical evidence.
Those between 15 and 17 years old should have alcohol no more than once a week and always under the supervision of a parent or carer, said the Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson.
"Parents and young people should be aware that drinking, even at age 15 or older, can be hazardous to health and not drinking is the healthiest option for young people," he said in new guidance.
The advice to parents comes as part of government efforts to reduce the levels of youth drinking.
Donaldson said a third of a million British children aged 11-15 were getting drunk every week.
"That is a very large number and we need to do something about that," he told BBC radio.
"There is emerging medical evidence now to suggest that damage to the structure and function of the brain takes place with exposure to alcohol at those sorts of ages."
The law leaves control of drinking at home to a parent's discretion and only bars the consumption of alcohol by children under five.
The government hopes that clear guidelines on safe drinking limits for children will help tackle a trend of increasing binge drinking among the young.
Its research has found a decline in the number of young drinkers over recent years. But it showed that those who do drink are consuming more alcohol and more often.
"Evidence ... shows that things that families do ... to point out the negative and health effects of alcohol lead to children drinking much later nearer to adulthood and drinking moderately in adult life," Donaldson said.
The recommendations follow the publication last year of the government's Youth Alcohol Action Plan which promised to provide parents with guidance on their children's drinking.
Britain has one of the highest rates in the European Union of hospital admission due to alcohol use by 15-16 year olds.
"More than 10,000 children end up in hospital every year due to drinking and research tells us that 15 percent of young people think it is normal to get drunk at least once a week," Donaldson said.
Reporting by Tim Castle; Editing by Steve Addison and Paul Casciato