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What Prompts College Kids to Drink?

Study finds they're more influenced by peers than abstinence ads

THURSDAY, Jan. 22, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Perceptions about friends' drinking habits affect college students more than marketing campaigns that encourage them to abstain or use alcohol responsibly.

That's the conclusion of a University of Iowa study in the latest issue of Health Communication.

"Social-norms" ads and poster campaigns use facts or statistics to correct student misconceptions about the drinking habits of their fellow students. The message is that most students are moderate drinkers or non-drinkers.

While social-norms campaigns are all over college campuses, the authors of this new study contend there are flaws in this approach to reducing student drinking.

"These campaigns are based on the assumption that students don't really know what the correct norm is, that they are likely to underestimate how many people are really drinking responsibly, and that a 'correct' message will change their behavior," Shelly Campo, an assistant professor of community and behavioral health at the university, says in a prepared statement.

"These campaigns also assume that students want to be like the typical college student, which is difficult to define, particularly at a college or university with a large or diverse student population," Campo says.

For this study, she and her colleagues surveyed 550 students at a medium-sized northeastern university where social-norms campaigns had been used for three years. The study found the students' perceptions about their friends' drinking had a significant impact on drinking behavior.

The drinking behavior of male friends had the greatest impact on both male and female college students.

But the study found students' perceptions about the drinking behavior of a "typical' student did not seem to affect their drinking behavior, a finding contrary to the social-norms model.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about the issue of college drinking.

SOURCE: University of Iowa, news release, Jan. 20, 2004
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