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Liver disease epidemic warning in North East

image captionDr Chris Record says habits need to change

Hospital admissions for alcoholic liver disease among people in their early-30s in north-east England have increased by more than 400% over eight years.

It compares with the national rise of 61% and is described by local liver specialists as an "epidemic".

The figures were produced by health campaign group Balance which wants a review of alcohol advertising.

However, the drinks industry body the Portman Group said the vast majority of people drank sensibly.

Specialists argue the cost of alcohol and the way it is promoted have created a drinking culture.

Balance's figures found 189 hospital admissions for 30 to 34-year-olds in 2010, compared with 37 in 2002.

The organisation also highlights hospital admissions among people in their 20s and in their teens.

Newcastle University and Newcastle Hospitals liver specialist Dr Chris Record said: "Only a few years ago alcoholic liver disease was very unusual in this age group and, unless our drinking habits change, the problem is only set to worsen.

"The earlier the age at which children drink, and the more they drink, the greater the chance of developing serious liver disease in adult life.

"Many patients are now presenting with terminal liver disease in their late-20s and early-30s."

Joanne Patterson, 41, from Sunderland, was diagnosed with cirrhosis and chronic liver disease two years ago. She had been drinking three bottles of wine, as well as lager, every day.

She now has to take 90 to 100 tablets a week and had spent 300 days in hospital in the past two years.

She said: "What's to say it's not going to happen to anyone else, because I never thought I would get this much damage from drinking.

"But I have done and it's irreversible damage and I have to take tablets for the rest of my life. My liver could fail at any time."

Balance is running a campaign calling on the government to prevent alcohol advertising on television, social networking sites and in cinemas, unless an 18-certificate film is showing.

Change attitudes

It wants an end to the sponsorship of sporting and cultural events by alcohol manufacturers.

The organisation was set up in 2009 and aims to change attitudes to alcohol. It is funded by the North East Primary Care Trusts.

Balance director Colin Shevills said: "Our region is drinking too much from an early age driven by alcohol which is too affordable, too available and too heavily promoted.

"It is particularly concerning as here in the North East we have the highest rate of 11 to 15-year-olds who drink in England and the highest rate of under-18s admitted to hospital because of alcohol."

A Department of Health spokesman said liver disease was a "silent killer" which put thousands of lives at risk.

They said: "We do not want to see the next generations dying young from a condition that is easily preventable - mainly by cutting down on alcohol and leading a healthier lifestyle.

"We know that the numbers of people we are seeing in hospital are going up, and so liver disease is costing the NHS more."

image captionDrinking alcohol daily leads to a higher risk of liver disease, the Royal College of Physicians says

Henry Ashworth, chief executive of the Portman Group, said it was vital to look at alcohol misuse in context.

"The vast majority of people in the UK drink responsibly and 75% of adults drink within the chief medical officer's guidelines," he said.

"It is in all our interests to help people who misuse alcohol, but a knee-jerk blanket ban is disproportionate and unnecessary.

"The UK already has some of the strictest rules in place to prevent alcohol being marketed to children, or in a way that might appeal to them, and these rules are strictly policed by us and the Advertising Standards Authority."

A spokesman for the Department for Culture Media and Sport added: "There are strict criteria which mean that broadcast advertising for alcoholic drinks cannot be targeted at young people or encourage immoderate consumption and which prevent alcohol advertisements from being placed in any programme made for children or likely to appeal to under-18 audiences.

"Ofcom and the ASA have taken action to strengthen the alcohol advertising rules. We will continue to monitor the effectiveness of the UK's regulatory regimes to ensure that there is sufficient protection for the public."

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