Public Health Leaders on Underage Drinking

Public health, education and law enforcement leaders believe that alcohol consumption by individuals aged nine to 15 "is a major, worsening problem in the United States." That, according to a poll of 250 reputed "experts." 1

They may be leaders and they might even be called experts, but their perceptions are inconsistent with the empirical facts. Federal surveys repeatedly show that underage drinking and alcohol-related problems are actually decreasing. In short, the so-called experts are wrong. 2

The leaders also overwhelmingly believe that it's increasingly easier for young people to get alcohol than ever before. However, two recent surveys have reported that it is actually easier for young people to buy marijuana than beer. Again, the "experts" are wrong. 3

These leaders, while incorrect in their perceptions, are nevertheless important shapers of public opinion and thus perpetuate the myth of an underage drinking epidemic. Unfortunately, this promotes the misperception also held by young people that "everyone's doing it" and that they need to in order to fit in with others.

The poll was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for a group called Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free. The activist organization is funded in part by federal tax money.


  • 1. MacPherson, K. Poll Spotlights Use of Alcohol by Children Ages 9 to 15. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 20, 2002, page A-3.
  • 2. For example, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). National Household Surveys of Drug Abuse. Washington, DC: SAMHSA ( and National Survey Results from "the Monitoring the Future Study" Washington, DC: National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (
  • 3. The National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse VII: Teens, Parents and Siblings. Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse; also see