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The Sudsy Life of College Student Sports Fans

They're more likely to binge drink than non-fans

FRIDAY, Dec. 27, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Thrilling to a bone-crushing tackle or a backboard-rattling slam dunk isn't the only thing that separates college sports fans from other collegians who aren't so, well, fanatical.

The first national study to look at the drinking habits of American college student sports fans found that more of them binge drink and have alcohol-related problems than students who might care less about the difference between a touchdown and a first down.

"College students are a pretty heavy drinking population and, within that population, sports fans appear to be among the heaviest drinkers," says study lead author Toben Nelson, a researcher with the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study.

Nelson says the findings, which appear in the January/February issue of the journal Addictive Behaviors, are no surprise.

"The reason we looked at this issue is because we were expecting that perhaps sports fans were going to be drinking at a higher rate," he says.

Previous research showed that college athletes binge drink more than non-athletes, but no studies had examined the drinking behavior of college sports fans. This study found that those sports fans have extreme drinking behavior, similar to college athletes.

Nelson says he found it particularly interesting that the rates of binge drinking were higher at colleges that place a heavy emphasis on sports than at colleges where sports are a lower priority.

Nelson and a colleague, Henry Wechsler, compared responses from 3,445 college student sports fans and 8,405 non-fan students to questions from the 1999 Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study. The study surveyed more than 14,000 college students at 119 four-year colleges in 39 states.

For their research, Nelson and Wechsler defined sports fans as college students who indicated that attending sports events was important or very important.

They found that among college students who drink alcohol, about 53 percent of sports fans usually binged when they were drinking, compared to 41 percent of the males and 37 percent of the females who aren't sports fans.

For men, binge drinking is often defined as having at least five drinks in a row; for women, it's at least four drinks in a row.

The study also found that sports fans were more likely to have consumed alcohol on at least 10 occasions in the previous 30 days and were more likely to view getting drunk as an important reason for drinking.

Alcohol abstinence was lower among sports fans (17 percent) than among non-fans (20 percent).

That heavier drinking meant the sports fans were more likely to suffer drinking-related problems such as sexual violence, academic difficulties or alcohol-related injury.

The study also found a link between targeted advertising by alcohol manufacturers and drinking by college sports fans. More student fans (38 percent) than non-fans (24 percent) took advantage of low-priced drink specials at bars.

Sports fans (19 percent) also participated more often in special beer promotions than non-fans (11 percent).

Nelson says his study is important because it identifies another group that might be targeted for some form of intervention to curb excessive drinking.

What To Do

For more on college students and alcohol, visit Middle Tennessee State University. To read a summary of a Harvard report on binge drinking on U.S. campuses, click here.

SOURCES: Toben Nelson, M.A., researcher, Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study; January/February 2003 Addictive Behaviors
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