SALT LAKE CITY — Alcohol use among Utah high school seniors is up for the first time in more than a decade, according to a new state report.
The Student Health and Risk Prevention, or SHARP, survey also showed a slight uptick in drinking among sixth-graders, while alcohol consumption among eighth- and 10th-graders dropped.
"It's not completely unexpected, just because Utah has very low rates," said Doug Murakami, Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control's director of alcohol education. "It's something we really need to keep an eye on to make sure these trends don't all start to do that."
High school seniors who say they drank alcohol within the past 30 days rose from 13.6 percent in 2015 to 14.7 percent this year, the biennial survey showed. For sixth-graders, the number rose from 0.7 percent to 0.9 percent. Thirty-day alcohol use is the benchmark for measuring teenage drinking.
The national average for 12th-graders is 33.2 percent.
It is the first time since the inception of the state-funded Parents Empowered campaign in 2006 that underage drinking has gone up in some areas.
While Utah has lower overall underage drinking rates compared with national averages, the SHARP survey also showed that children who drink do it to get drunk.
Binge drinking — five or more drinks in a row — among high school seniors went up from 8.1 percent in 2015 to 8.6 percent this year, and rose slightly among all grades.
The prevention program aims to educate parents about the dangers of alcohol on young people through television and radio ads, billboards, vehicle wraps and social media. Utah is one of the few states with slick advertising campaign targeting parents. It's $2.5 million budget comes from the alcohol sales revenue.
"Parents are the key to preventing underage drinking. They're the ones with the influence over the kids. It's their job, really," Murakami said.
A Dan Jones & Associates poll for Parents Empowered found 82 percent of Utahns have seen or heard the program's ads.Comment on this story
Still, among those Utah teenagers who drink, about 43 percent of them get alcohol at home with their parents' permission, Murakami said.
"That's a little bit alarming," he said. "We've got parents that are providing alcohol. That's going to be tough for us to break through that, but that's what we need to do is to reach those parents and say, 'You need to stop providing alcohol to the kids.'"
Parents' disapproval is the primary reason children choose not to drink, according to the Parents Empowered report.