Remarks at press conference to launch: The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking
Rear Admiral Kenneth P. Moritsugu, M.D., M.P.H.
Acting United States Surgeon General
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Thank you all for joining us today.
I am here to address a significant public health and safety problem: alcohol use by America’s children and teenagers.
Underage drinking is not just about spring break, and it’s not just about parties. As early as ages 8 and 9, our children are confronted with decisions about alcohol on a regular basis in many settings — including at home and at school.
The 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that there are almost 11 million underage drinkers in the United States. We also know that drinking and binge drinking ramp up during the teen years. Nearly 20 percent of 14 year olds say they have been drunk at least once.
This needs to stop.
Underage drinking is everybody’s problem ― and its solution is everyone’s responsibility.
Unfortunately, too many Americans see underage drinking as a rite of passage … kids just being kids.
The reality is our young people are being harmed by underage drinking. That’s why this Call to Action is attempting to change the culture and attitudes toward underage drinking in America.
We can no longer ignore what alcohol is doing to our children. The adverse consequences of underage drinking are wide-ranging, and include academic failure, risky sexual behavior, injuries, and even death.
In fact, each year, more than 5,000 deaths of people under age 21 are linked to underage drinking.
As with every Surgeon General’s publication, this Call to Action is grounded in science. The science indicates that underage drinking is putting our children at risk.
Recent research shows that the brain continues to develop well beyond childhood — and throughout adolescence. This research raises concerns that underage drinking may affect short-term and long-term cognitive functioning, and may change the brain in ways that can lead to future alcohol dependence.
Research also shows that young people who start drinking before the age of 15 are five times more likely to have alcohol-related problems later in life.
The bottom line is that research provides more reasons than ever before for parents and other adults to be concerned about the effects of underage drinking on our nation’s children, and to take steps to prevent and reduce underage drinking.
This Call to Action is a call to every American to join with the Surgeon General in a national effort to address underage drinking early, continuously, and in context of human development.
I want to thank some of the people here today who led the way in developing The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking.
- Dr. Li and his staff at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, especially Drs. Vivian Faden and Patricia Powell,
- Dr. Cline and his staff at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, especially Mark Weber and Steve Wing,
- Dr. Hamilton Beazley, who wrote much of the Call to Action,
- Charley Curie, who helped to initiate the Call to Action when he was administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,
- The Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Prevention of Underage Drinking,
- Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free – for their hard work to address the problem of underage drinking and their support for a Call to Action.
Goals of the Call to Action
This Call to Action identifies six goals that we will be joining with all sectors of society to address:
- Foster changes in society that facilitate healthy adolescent development and that help prevent and reduce underage drinking.
- Engage parents, schools, communities, all levels of government, all social systems that interface with youth, and youth themselves in a coordinated national effort to prevent and reduce underage drinking and its consequences.
- Promote an understanding of underage alcohol consumption in the context of human development and maturation that takes into account individual adolescent characteristics as well as environmental, ethnic, cultural, and gender differences.
- Conduct additional research on adolescent alcohol use and its relationship to development.
- Work to improve public health surveillance on underage drinking and on population-based risk factors for this behavior.
- Work to ensure that policies at all levels are consistent with the national goal of preventing and reducing underage alcohol consumption.
Guides to Action
As many of you know, the Office of the Surgeon General is committed to providing the best scientific information in a way that people can use and understand.
By making health information easier to understand, we allow people to actively take steps to increase their health and wellness and to actually prevent disease as a result of healthy choices.
In addition to this Call to Action, I will soon release several “Guides to Action” with the science presented in a way that Americans can understand and apply to their individual and family circumstances.
I am confident that the information in this Call to Action, when broadly disseminated and discussed among parents, teachers, community leaders, and young people themselves will literally save lives.
I expect to issue the “Guides to Action” at events in states throughout our nation over the next few months.
Before moving to the next part of our program, I want to specifically recognize the millions of parents who have worked to prevent their children from drinking.
You may have often felt that you were fighting this battle alone.
With this Call to Action, I am asking every American to join in a national effort to change attitudes and behaviors regarding underage drinking. Our children deserve nothing less.
Now, I would like to introduce you to one of the champions of this Call to Action. Mary Easley is co-chair of the Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free. She is also the First Lady of North Carolina. Mrs. Easley…..
[Remarks from Mary Easley, followed by Michele Ridge and Koren Zailckas.]
Thank you, Koren.
In closing, thank you all very much for being here today. As you are probably aware, copies of the Call to Action are available on my website: www.surgeongeneral.gov.
And now, Dr. Li and Dr. Cline, will you please join me on stage for questions?
Ladies and gentlemen of the press, we will now answer questions that you may have.