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And I'm Audie Cornish. Federal health officials issued a warning today about binge drinking among girls and young women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says binge drinking is surprisingly common among female high school and college students. And experts warn that it can be even more dangerous for women and girls than for men and boys. NPR's Rob Stein has our report.
ROB STEIN, BYLINE: When people think about binge drinking, it's usually associated with young men, like these fraternity brothers in the 1978 comedy "Animal House."
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, 'ANIMAL HOUSE')
JOHN BELUSHI: (as Bluto) Toga. Toga.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Toga. Toga. Toga. Toga.
STEIN: But according to Thomas Frieden of the CDC, the problem of binge drinking is hardly limited to boys.
DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN: Binge drinking is recognized as a serious problem for men and boys. It's also a serious and under-recognized problem for women and girls.
STEIN: Now, boys are still more likely than girls to binge, meaning they consume at least four drinks at a time. But according to the CDC's new analysis, one in five high school girls and one in eight women binge drink on a regular basis. Here's how much and how often.
FRIEDEN: Women who binge drink do so about three times a month with about six drinks on average per sitting.
STEIN: All together, the CDC estimates that there are about 14 million American women who binge drink three times every month. And who are the most likely binge drinkers?
FRIEDEN: Generally, these are younger women, white women and higher income women.
STEIN: That's women ages 18 to 34 who live in homes that earn at least $75,000 a year. Here's the concern: binge drinking is very risky behavior: drunken driving, accidents, increased risk for heart disease. But girls face even more risk than boys, most notably an increased risk for breast cancer.
FRIEDEN: There are about 23,000 deaths a year in women and girls due to drinking too much alcohol, including binge drinking.
STEIN: And there are still other additional risks for women and girls. When anyone drinks too much, they are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior, which means they could get a sexually transmitted disease. But girls can also end up with an unintended pregnancy. And if they're already pregnant when they binge, they could lose or hurt the baby. Now, the CDC didn't explore why women binge drink, but experts like David Jernigan at Johns Hopkins have and idea. They blame at least part of the problem on alcohol companies targeting women with advertising in new products.
DR. DAVID JERNIGAN: Virginia Slims was the beginning of an increase in cigarette smoking for women. The equivalent in alcohol has been the rise of these products we call alcopops. They're fruity, bubbly, brightly colored. On college campuses, they're known as chick beer.
STEIN: But Jernigan says these products are more like cocktails than beer.
JERNIGAN: The young women always used to drink beer. Now they're more likely to drink distilled spirits. This is a bad idea because the inexperienced drinkers are now experimenting with the strongest form of the drug out there.
STEIN: To counter binge drinking, Jernigan and others would like to see restrictions on advertising and marketing of these and other products, higher taxes on alcoholic beverages and limiting who can sell alcohol.
JERNIGAN: What the research finds is the fewer places there are to buy alcohol the less the population will drink.
STEIN: For their part, the alcoholic beverage industry disputes all this. They agree binge drinking is a problem, but point out drinking among teens is at an all-time low. Ralph Blackwell heads The Century Council, an industry funded group.
RALPH BLACKMAN: Underage drinking numbers have been going down steadily for many, many years.
STEIN: And Blackwell argues there's no evidence the marketing of specific products plays any role in binge drinking.
BLACKMAN: This is not about the product of choice here. This is about the pressures that young people - again, young men and young women - face in terms of the reasons they consume - stress, peer pressure - to fit in.
STEIN: Instead, Blackwell says, parents, especially mothers, need to play more of a role in discouraging alcohol abuse by their daughters. Rob Stein, NPR News.
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