A study on underage drinking by the International Centre for Alcohol Policies has found that across Europe, more than 80% of 15- to 16-year-olds have consumed alcohol at least once, with some countries reporting that mor ethan 95% of youth drink. However, in the US the percentage is somewhat lower, at about 71% of 15- to 16-year-olds.

The report said: "Excessive alcohol consumption by young people can clearly cause immediate risk and lasting damage. The question we need to ask is not how we can regulate and control the use of alcohol, but how different societies have successfully integrated the healthy consumption of alcohol into the social, religious and family life, and the lessons we can learn from this."

The report, called "What drive underage drinking? An International Analysis", concludes that the issue demands urgent attention. "I current research is ever to be translated into practical agendas for government officials, health experts and educators," a statement from ICAP said.

"The scientific evidence complied here makes it painfully clear to a broad audience that this problem is far more complicated than previously thought," said Marcus Grant, president of ICAP. "Debate is necessary precisely because the solution isn't clear. Nobody can claim to have a monopoly on how best to deal with this issue. Adjusting drinking age limits is just one strategy amongst others."