"Increase the drinking age to 18!"

Fresh figures show that a record number of youngsters ended up at Accident & Emergency Departments in Belgian hospitals last year.  2,334 youngsters aged between 12 and 17 had to be taken to an A&E in 2017.

The figures come from the Christian health fund that is pressing for the drinking age to be increased to 18.  There is growing concern about binge drinking, when women drink four glasses and men drink six glasses of alcohol in two hours.  Alcohol poisoning can be the result requiring a trip to A&E.  In recent years the number of youngsters visiting an A&E for alcohol-related problems fell, but last year's figures are 8% up on the previous year.  Alcohol abuse in the 18 to 29 year bracket too is increasing.

Researchers notice that it's above all the Belgian provinces along the French border that have the worst figures: West Flanders, Hainaut and Luxemburg Province.  It's also here that more alcohol-related cancers (pancreatic cancer, cancer of the liver and of the oesophagus) are diagnosed.

The health fund says alcohol abuse at a young age isn't innocent: it can lead to brain damage, poorer school results and difficulty in finding a job.  People who start to drink young, will consume more later on too.  Both boys and girls are affected. Often youngsters are unaware of the dangers of alcohol.

The health fund and other health professionals are calling for the legal drink limit for beer, wine and champagne to be raised to 18.  That's already the case in 22 EU nations.  Belgian health minister De Block is not in favour.  She fears that youngsters will then become hidden drinkers.