LONDON (Reuters Life!) - England's top doctor has blamed the behavior of some parents for contributing to what he called the country's serious alcohol problem.
Drinking heavily in front of children sets a bad example and letting them taste alcohol in the form of watered-down wine is misguided, says Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson.
New advice for British parents says they should not give any alcohol to children before they are 15 and only in small amounts when they are older.
Donaldson said an alcohol-free childhood is the healthiest and best option.
"Across England, half a million children between the ages of 11 and 15 years will have been drunk in the past four weeks," he said.
"Drinking, particularly at a young age, a lack of parental supervision, exposing children to drink-fueled events and failing to engage with them as they grow up are the root causes from which our country's serious alcohol problem has developed."
He said that if children aged between 15 and 17 are drinking, it should be no more than one day a week, and under parental supervision.
Donaldson criticized parents who get drunk in front of their children and said there is clear evidence that the earlier young people get a taste for alcohol, the more likely they are to develop drink problems later in life.
"Children are very receptive and influenced by role models and if they see their parents or other family members becoming drunk and out of control then they see that as socially acceptable behavior," he told BBC television.
He also criticized as a "middle-class obsession" the giving of watered-down wine to children in the mistaken belief that it will turn them into sensible, moderate drinkers.
Donaldson's advice has been endorsed by other bodies.
Chris Sorek, Chief Executive of alcohol awareness charity Drinkaware, said: "The drinking culture in the UK is entrenched and many young people see drinking alcohol as a rite of passage.
"It's imperative that from an early age, we start to educate children and young people about the dangers of alcohol misuse."
Editing by Steve Addison