CHILDREN as young as 12 who live in areas saturated with liquor outlets are more likely to drink than their peers, researchers say.
A study of more than 10,000 high school students has found many are illegally being sold alcohol from takeaway liquor shops.
Children between 12 and 14 who live close to many takeaway liquor outlets were particularly at risk of drinking.
And exclusive figures obtained by Fairfax Media indicate more and more children could be put at risk, with growth in alcohol outlets far exceeding population growth.
Deakin University research fellow and study leader Bosco Rowland said he believed the children living near more liquor shops were more likely to drink as it had become normalised.
‘‘Of course if kids are going to consume alcohol they need access to alcohol,’’ he said. ‘‘But if you have got more outlets you have also got more advertising and more exposure.’’
He said the majority of teenagers who were drinking in his study were given the alcohol by an adult, with children who had parents born overseas less likely to drink.
‘‘There has been this culture in Australia that you initiate kids to alcohol at an early age, and if you go back 10 or 15 years that’s what would be promoted,’’ he said.
The study, published in the journal Addictive Behaviours, also found 62per cent of the Victorian teenagers said they had friends who used drugs, a figure Dr Rowland called ‘‘scary’’.
Michael Livingston, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre post-doctoral research fellow and study co-author, said the number of takeaway liquor outlets in NSW had increased by 26per cent over the past 10 years.
‘‘There has been this winding back of a range of restrictions ... and the philosophy has been about promoting the industry,’’ he said.
He said it was hard to limit expansion to venues such as small bars.
His analysis found population increases had not kept pace with increases in takeaway outlets, bars and pubs.
University of Newcastle professor Kypros Kypri said the proportion of teenagers the study identified getting away with buying alcohol was concerning.
‘‘The fact that 19per cent [of 17-year-olds] can buy alcohol and 13per cent of 16-year-olds is really a worry,’’ he said. ‘‘That suggests the law isn’t being enforced properly.’’
However, the study did not find the same effect of outlet density on drinking among older teenagers, which Professor Kypri said may not be supported by further analysis.
His own research among New Zealand university students had found outlet density, defined in relation to a person’s house, rather than to their local government area as was used in this study, had found such a link.