Study shows heightened binge drinking

David Anderson

Underage binge drinking is rampant on campuses across the country despite efforts to enforce underage-drinking laws, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study released Monday.
At the University, however, officials are divided over whether or not underage drinking is a major concern on campus.
Study co-author, George Dowdall, a St. Joseph’s University professor in Philadelphia, said alcohol abuse is the number one health problem among college students.
“College students clearly have a problem with binge drinking,” he said.
But while researchers in Cambridge are concerned about the popularity of drinking binges among undergraduates, University Police view the issue as an inherent campus problem.
“(Alcohol) is almost expected to be abused,” said University Police Chief George Aylward, who added that drinking is typically portrayed in a positive way.
The study, led by Harvard University professor Henry Wechsler, compares drinking patterns of underage college students to college students 21 years and older.
Wechsler surveyed more than 7,000 college students under 21 and about 5,000 students of the legal drinking age at 116 colleges around the country.
The study found that although students over 21 drink more often, underage drinkers are more likely to binge drink.
According to the Harvard study, 63 percent of underage students surveyed reported drinking in the past 30 days, compared with 74 percent among students of the legal drinking age.
However, 42 percent of underage students surveyed said they had five or more drinks, compared with 27 percent among older students.
The study also found that underage drinking is especially common in residence halls, fraternities and sororities.
In the Twin Cities, opinions vary as to how the University compares to other colleges in terms of alcohol use.
Dowdall said the Midwest had one of the highest levels of college binge drinking in the country.
In a June 4 survey, the Chronicle of Higher Education ranked the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities campus third in the nation in alcohol-related arrests, with 606 arrests in 1998.
However, David Golden, director of public health for Boynton Health Services, said the University’s drinking rate is no higher than rates at other colleges.
A 1998 Boynton survey of 1,500 students found that 65 percent of University students were low to moderate drinkers, meaning they consumed three or fewer drinks per week. And 32 percent did not drink alcohol in a given week.
In addition, Aylward said arrest numbers do not reflect the behavior of University students because nonstudents made up two-thirds of all alcohol-related arrests on campus.
The Harvard study traces the causes of underage drinking to easy access and low retail prices.
“Areas near college campuses are characterized by a high density of alcohol outlets, intense competition for customers, high-volume and reduced-price sales,” Wechsler said in a prepared statement.
Many of the underage students surveyed also said it was “easy” or “very easy” to obtain alcohol despite the legal drinking age, according to the release.
“(The study) tends to support the notion that more attention has to be given to the questions of price and access,” Dowdall said.
Jane Canney, the University’s associate vice president for Student Development, said the University works closely with residence halls, Boynton Health Services and campus greeks to curtail underage drinking and alcohol abuse.
Last year, Gov. Jesse Ventura signed legislation that stiffened penalties for adults who buy alcohol for minors, making the offense a felony instead of a gross misdemeanor.