How does just one sip of alcohol affect a child's attitude to drinking later in life?
This question is being answered through an Australian study that follows a group from Year 7 on, and latest results explain why most parents offer that first sip.
The paper, published in journal Pediatrics, found a taste of alcohol was mostly offered to kids on celebratory occasions, like a sip of grandpa's beer at the Christmas table or a nip of wine on a family holiday.
It also found the main reason why a parent would offer their Grade 7 child a sip of alcohol was because they presumed the child's peers were drinking already, and hoped a small sip would dissuade them from binge drinking later.
University of NSW project author Dr Monika Wadolowski told The Huffington Post Australia she originally began studying the culture around sipping after a study showed more than half of Australian 12 year olds had consumed alcohol in their lifetime.
"I was quite staggered at the results, so we also asked, if you had consumed alcohol, was it just a sip or a whole glass?" Wadolowski said.
"The results showed about 60 percent had just sipped an alcoholic drink and I was quite surprised that for such a common entry point to alcohol, there was very little literature on it."
Wadolowski said parents that offered their children a sip of alcohol were no more or less strict than those who didn't.
"Interestingly, the alcohol consumption of the parents was also not an indicator of whether they'd be more or less likely to offer their children a sip," Wadolowski said.
This group of Year 7 students has been followed for multiple years and Wadolowski said the next phase of research looked at whether those who sipped alcohol were more or less likely to develop unhealthy drinking behaviours.
"Preliminary results are showing that if a parents does supply a sip of alcohol, their child is no more likely to continue sipping alcohol or progress drinking a whole drink one year later," Wadolowski said.
"It seems to be other factors that predict drinking behaviour like rule breaking, aggression and whether their friends are drinking alcohol."
The study group are now in Year 12 and Wadolowski said she'd be interested to see how the next stage of the study went.
"Obviously sipping is quite a different behaviour to drinking a whole glass and I'll be interested to see what effect it has," she said.
"Is that supply of a sip protective against binge drinking or is it a continuum?"
The study continues at the Kirby Institute.Suggest a correction