CHICAGO (Reuters) –Universities known as binge schools have agreed to join the American Medical Association and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in a precedent-setting multimillion-dollar effort to battle drinking on campus, officials said Tuesday.
“At high binge schools, students are twice as likely to have been assaulted, and 74 times more likely to have driven after five or more drinks,” said Nancy Kaufman, vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, who is administering the 5-year, $8.6 million grant program.
Kaufman said the foundation was spurred to initiate the program because of the effects of second-hand drinking on students. She said non-drinkers often have to deal with drunk roommates or loud parties that can disrupt their studies.
One of the main objectives of the program will be to change the attitudes of alumni who, Kaufman said, often return and spark bingeing among undergraduates. The programs will involve harsher penalties, restrictions and education.
“The alumni come back and expect to have the same kind of party atmosphere they remember,” Kaufman said.
Kaufman said that a 1994 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation financed study by Henry Wechsler of Harvard found that schools where athletics and fraternities are considered to be important are usually the campuses with binge drinking traditions.
Alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for youths aged 15 to 24, according to the medical association.
A binge drinker is defined as a male who consumes five or more drinks in a row or a woman who downs four or more at least once during a two-week period.
“We found that things hadn’t gotten any better (between 1994 and 1996), and we felt we needed a fresh approach,” said Dr. Nancy Dickey, American Medical Association chairwoman.
Dickey said the medical association wants to develop models to be implemented at the six schools taking part in the program as well as other schools with similar problems.
“Drinking is a kind of high-risk behavior that disrupts institutions, endangers the drinkers and victimizes their fellow students with violence, vandalism and harassment,” Dickey said. “We challenge the universities to come up with as many innovative programs as they can.”
A side effect of binge drinking, Dickey said, is unplanned and unprotected sex that leaves students open to unwanted pregnancy as well as diseases including AIDS.
“You cannot drink and think,” Dickey said.
The Princeton, N.J., based Johnson Foundation plans to add two more schools to the program within two years and eventually extend it to seven years.
The initial grants, announced Tuesday by the medical association, average $770,000 per school. The schools will be eligible for other funding on successful development of anti-drinking programs, and have agreed to contribute an unspecified amount of matching funds
The schools selected are: the University of Colorado at Boulder; the University of Delaware, Newark; University of Iowa, Iowa City; Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pa.; University of Vermont, Burlington; and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The programs will be administered by the American Medical Association’s Office of Alcohol and Other Substances.
The schools have developed partnerships with their local communities and with law enforcement groups to combat drinking on and off campus by students.
Tom Gustafson, who will be working with the program for the University of Vermont, said that the school hopes to develop a subtle approach to combat bingeing.
“We are not going to be prohibitionists. What we want to stop is problem drinking, not all drinking,” said Gustafson.
The institutions and their towns have already taken steps to curtail alcohol advertising and to stop the sale of alcohol to underage students.
Alcohol causes 100,000 deaths in the United States each year and costs an estimated $100 billion annually. Even more disturbing, according to the American Medical Association, is that the age youngsters take their first drink has dropped over the last 10 years to 12 from 14.
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