While poverty is usually associated with greater health risks, a study suggests that young teens from middle- to higher-income families may be somewhat more likely than less affluent kids to use alcohol.
UK researchers found that among 5,837 thirteen-year-olds, those from the poorest families were the least likely to have tried liquor.
When the researchers divided the teens into five income groups, those in the lowest bracket were 22% less likely than the middle bracket to have had a drink in the past 6 months. They were similarly less likely to admit to binge-drinking.
But the higher a mother's education level, the less likely her child was to drink.
The results, published in Paediatrics, point to a complex relationship between socioeconomics and teen drinking, the researchers say.
They speculate that teenagers from wealthier families may have easier access to alcohol. But when mothers have more education, they may be more likely to emphasise the importance of a healthy lifestyle to their kids.
Whatever the reasons for the findings, the researchers say they reinforce the fact that all parents should be aware of the problem of early drinking –but maybe particularly so in higher income families.
"More advantaged families tend to have healthier behaviour," in general, lead author Roberto Melotti, of the University of Bristol, said. "Our results indicate an example where this is not the case."
At age 13, many kids who drink may get the alcohol from their own house, Melotti noted. So parents may want to make sure any alcohol is locked away, he said.
The findings are based on interviews with 13-year-olds taking part in a larger, long-term health study. Overall, one-quarter said they had ever had alcohol without permission, while one-fifth said they had ever "binged" –consumed three or more drinks in a day.
Overall, kids in the lowest income groups were less likely to report drinking, even when the researchers factored in parents' occupations and education levels.
Teenagers whose mothers had higher education levels were also somewhat less likely to drink, regardless of income bracket. When mothers had a college degree, kids were 13% to 40% less likely to have had a drink in the past six months, versus their peers whose mothers had less than a high school education.
The findings were different when it came to smoking, however. The 13-year-olds from lower income families were slightly more likely to admit to ever trying smoking, a pattern that is in line with results of past studies, according to the researchers.
Overall, 16% of boys and 22% of girls in the UK study admitted to ever smoking.
In a 2009 survey on risky behaviours by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, 10% of American high school students admitted to having tried smoking a cigarette before age 13. Among 8th graders, between 30% and 60% (depending on the state) said they had had "more than a few sips" of alcohol.
(Reuters Health, Amy Norton, March 2011)