WAITE PARK - Law enforcement, public health and legal professionals agree - alcohol use among kids, teens and college students remains a significant problem in central Minnesota.

As such, about 30 representatives from area agencies gathered for a community alcohol awareness meeting Monday afternoon at the Stearns County Human Services Center in Waite Park.

Among the topics discussed was a hard look alcohol use statistics and trends,  and the beginning of the process to create a plan for outreach and education.

Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner was one of those in attendence. He says, in particular, the rise in alcohol use in kids between 6th and 9th grade is an indicator that alcohol abuse prevention needs to target kids earlier in life.

Sanner has been watching alcohol trends in youth throughout his nearly 30 year career. He says, out of all substances, alcohol remains the biggest problem in central Minnesota.

According to statistics presented during. the meeting, kids who drink alcohol before the age of 15 are 4 times more likely to develop an alcohol abuse problem later in life.

The meeting was the first of what will be an ongoing focus group to build a strategic plan to secure grant money to build up area alcohol awareness prevention programs throughout central Minnesota.