U’s health survey to expand

Boynton received $138K to collect tobacco-use data for the state.

by Branden Largent

The University of Minnesota’s Boynton Health Service signed a contract with the state last week to survey twice as many college campuses this spring when it conducts its 2013 College Student Health Survey.

The Minnesota Department of Health’s Statewide Health Improvement Program is giving Boynton nearly $138,000 to collect the data, according to MDH spokeswoman Martha Roberts.

SHIP coordinators are looking to use survey data to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of the program’s work with 31 post-secondary schools to create tobacco-free campuses, Roberts said.

Since 2009, these schools have worked with SHIP, which provides resources to help students and staff quit smoking.

“We don’t just throw people out to dry,” Roberts said. “We want them to be successful to quit smoking.”

As of July, at least 774 colleges and universities across the nation have adopted 100 percent smoke-free campuses, according to data from Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights. The University’s Twin Cities campus does not currently have smoke-free policies, though Duluth and Crookston campuses do.

Roberts calls Boynton’s unique data set a “gold mine” because it allows SHIP to see if there’s been a change in tobacco use and exposure among campuses.

“Boynton Health Service’s College Student Health Survey is very unique statewide, even nationwide,” Roberts said.

The survey was the first comprehensive college health survey in the country when it debuted in 1995 and has since been adopted by the American College Health Survey, said Boynton spokesman Dave Golden. Boynton began surveying other campuses in 2007.

Golden said Boynton will examine about 45 campuses this spring, more than twice as many as the usual 15 to 20 schools surveyed. Only some of the schools will have tobacco-free policies so that the program can determine whether or not they work.

Though SHIP is primarily interested in tracking tobacco use, students on participating campuses will take the complete College Student Health Survey, which includes questions on everything from mental health to insurance-care coverage and sexual health.

Roberts said Boynton will maintain the privacy of many campuses, and it will be up to each individual school to release its data publically.

“Some schools might find it politically sensitive to share that their students have a high alcohol consumption rate, for example,” Roberts said. “It might affect their marketing.”

The creation of SHIP was part of Minnesota’s health care reform in 2008. The program has funded communities to create supportive environments, encourage healthy lifestyles and lower health care costs across the state, Roberts said.

Tobacco rates and obesity are two major costly issues for Minnesota, Roberts said, with Minnesotans spending almost $2.9 billion a year in direct medical costs due to tobacco use.

“It really has serious health care cost implications for our state, as well as quality of [Minnesotan’s] lives,” Roberts said.

She said it’s critical to track tobacco use on college campuses because tobacco companies target this age group to attract lifelong users.

Survey questions relating to tobacco use include environmental exposure to secondhand smoke, tobacco-use rates and quit attempts, according to Boynton Director of Research Katie Lust, who will be analyzing and aggregating the tobacco-use data for the program.

“Any opportunity that we can have to engage other post-secondary institutions in Minnesota is a great thing,” Lust said.

Golden said Boynton will be conducting the survey in early spring of 2013, and the results will be released next fall.