Denmark advises no alcohol consumption for under-18s

All young people aged under 18 have been advised not to drink alcohol in new guidelines issued by the Danish Health Authority.

empty beer cans in denmark
The Danish Health Authority recommends all people under age 18 avoid alcohol. Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix

The advice is part of new general Danish recommendations on alcohol consumption, the health authority said in a statement.

The new recommendation for under-18s not to drink alcohol at all is based on knew knowledge of the detrimental effect on the development of the brain caused by alcohol in young people, the Danish Health Authority said.

Memory, learning, planning, decision making, impulse control and language can all be affected by alcohol when the brain is still developing, according to the health authority.

“We have a special focus on young people. We know that young people who drink large amounts of alcohol at once are at increased risk from accidents, violence and unwanted sex,” Niels Sandø, head of department with the Danish Health Authority, told news wire Ritzau.

“Alcohol can also be harmful and affect both memory and learning ability in children and young people, whereby the brain still is still developing. We have therefor tightened our recommendations in relation to children and young people under 18 years such that we now advise against them drinking alcohol,” he said.

In addition to discouraging alcohol entirely for people under 18, the Danish Health Authority has changed its recommendations for the number of alcohol units people older than 18 should drink.

Under the new guidelines, adult women and men alike are advised to drink no more than 10 units a week and no more than four in one day.

That replaces outgoing recommendations which stated that 14 units for men and 7 units for women gave a low risk of disease related to alcohol consumption. The risk increased to “high” for weekly intakes of 14 units (women) and 21 units (men).

As such, the new guidelines do not differentiate between men and women.

That is because the risk of illness or death is almost equal for men and women if consumption is above 10 units per week, according to the health authority.

The risk increases more steeply for women than men at higher consumption levels, however.

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How will Denmark’s health reform change country’s health services?

Junior doctors will spend more time in general practice during their training and 25 new local hospitals will be opened under a new health sector reform announced on Friday.

How will Denmark's health reform change country’s health services?

An agreement for the reform was presented by the government on Friday with the backing of a parliamentary majority.

The deal had been delayed with the Covid-19 crisis among the obstacles which drew out its completion.

It provides for 6.8 billion kroner of spending on the Danish health service over the next eight years, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke told media on Friday.

“We have an agreement for a health reform that will support local health services. Many parties are with us. (The deal) could not have broader support,” he said.

Parties on both sides of Denmark’s political aisle are in agreement over the deal, with Martin Geertsen, health spokesperson with the opposition Liberal (Venstre) party, calling it “a good little deal”.

“Does this agreement solve all the challenges faced by the Danish health service going forward? No. Certainly not. It’s a good little deal. It’s a step in the right direction,” Geertsen said.

The health spokesperson with the left-wing party Red Green Alliance, Peder Hvelplund, likewise characterised the reform as a small but positive step that does not solve all of the problems within the health system currently.

In an earlier version of the deal, proposed by the governing Social Democrats, up to 20 local hospitals – around the size of extended, large health centres – were proposed. The location of the centres that will be opened or built under the reform is not clear at the current time.

The new, local centres could potentially be located in former hospital premises.

The government also proposed a form of compulsory service which junior doctors would have to complete as part of their training, involving working for an experience GP. This will be undertaken as part of doctors’ studies under the terms of the reform.

This means that young doctors will spend an extra six months working at GP surgeries and spend less time at hospitals.

Earlier health proposals by the government related to additional restrictions on tobacco and alcohol sales do not form part of the agreement announced on Friday.

Negotiations over those proposals will take place separately, Heunicke said.

“Next week we will open negotiations on the remaining elements relating to prevention (of smoking and excessive alcohol consumption). It was the right thing to do to split things up because we got this broadly-supported agreement,” he said.