Britain's Department of Health blamed supermarkets for nearly half of the record 4,501 cases of minors younger than 18 being hospitalized for binge drinking in 2004. Last year's figure represented a 13.2-percent increase of such hospitalizations over 2003.
Home Secretary Charles Clarke called in the heads of the Tesco and Sainsbury supermarket chains to explain their approach to the problem.
The sharp rise in underage binge drinking came as relaxed laws have allowed alcohol sales 24 hours a day in England and Wales since late November.
Officials backing resumption of liquor-sale stings worried that stores planning to be open 36 consecutive hours for the New Year's holiday would fuel more underage drinking.
"The quid pro quo is flexible licensing hours means tougher protection for young and vulnerable people," Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell told The Times.