Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health is taking stock of alcohol consumption in its area – and officials there are not entirely thrilled with what’s coming out.

According to a new report issued by the health unit, 81 per cent of residents in its area report drinking alcohol within the past year – nine per cent ahead of the provincial average.

Whether broken down by age or by gender, the Guelph area comes in above the normal provincial drinking rate.

What Dr. Nicola Mercer, the region’s medical officer of health, calls “really a surprising fact,” is the reported rates of youth drinking in the area.

Sixty-six per cent of Grade 10 students reported consuming alcohol in the past year, as did 22 per cent of Grade 7 students.

“Many youths see it as initiation into adulthood,” Mercer said.

The report found a close split between male and female Grade 10 students in Wellington and Dufferin counties who self-reported drinking – 71 per cent of boys did so, as did 68 per cent of girls.

The numbers were lower in Guelph, with only 55 per cent of boys and 63 per cent of girls admitting to alcohol use in the past year.

While the report doesn’t examine the long-term impact of staring alcohol consumption at a young age, Mercer says “there is some concern” children who start drinking earlier will move on to more high-risk drinking behaviours as they age.

In any event, she says, parents should keep a close eye on their kids’ behaviour.

“Parents should really understand who they’re hanging out with and what kinds of potential harmful substances they’re consuming,” she says.