News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

Heavy drinking among US students correlates with density of alcohol outlets

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 12 April 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:783
  1. Roger Dobson
  1. Abergavenny

    Researchers have found a strong link between drinking problems in students and the number of outlets selling alcohol within two miles of campus centres.

    The more outlets there are—and one unnamed US university has 185 of them—the greater the drinking problems.

    One of the main aims of the study, carried out at the department of health and social behaviour at Harvard School of Public Health, was to determine whether levels of heavy and frequent drinking and drinking related problems varied systematically with the density of alcohol outlets.

    The researchers, who report their findings in the journal Health and Place (2003;9;1–6) looked at eight large public universities across the United States that are taking part in the matter of degree (AMOD) programme designed to reduce binge drinking and related problems.

    The researchers identified 966 outlets within the eight, two mile (3.2 km) study areas. The number of outlets in each study area ranged from 32 to 185 outlets.

    All sites had student populations with high levels of heavy and frequent drinking and drinking related problems. Up to a third of students reported drinking frequently—consuming alcohol on 10 or more occasions during the past 30 days—and 18–32% reported having five or more problems resulting from drink. Between 20% and 46% of students reported getting drunk at least three times during the previous 30 days.

    The researchers found that density of alcohol outlets was strongly correlated with drinking rates.

    “We found associations between outlet density, heavy and frequent drinking, and drinking related problems among all student drinkers and among several subgroups. The correlation coefficients are about as good as they get in social science research,” said Elissa Weitzman, lead author and research scientist at Harvard School of Public Health

    “All these communities, we knew, had high levels of drinking problems. So we did not expect to find the variations that we did. It very much surprised me to see the almost exact ordering of prevalence of drinking problems. We did not expect to see this pattern because we were looking at a very select group.”

    The report says that further work is needed: “It appears that the ‘wettest’ communities may be particularly risky for young people whose drinking does not reflect entrenched high—risk patterns. Thorough investigation of these associations and mechanisms underlying them are needed.”

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