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Cheap Prices Encourage Binge Drinking : Marketing practices linked to higher rates of drinking (American Journal of Preventive Medicine, October, 2003)

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study (CAS) released a new study documenting, through systematic on-site observations, the extent to which college students are targeted with sales of large volumes of alcohol, low sale prices, and frequent alcohol promotions at bars, liquor stores, and other retail outlets surrounding college campuses. 118 colleges were analyzed for this study.

The study found a strong association between the presence of these promotions and higher rates of heavy drinking on college campuses. According to previous CAS research, underage students consume 48 percent of all alcohol consumed on college campuses.

The study paints a portrait of the alcohol promotions college students will likely encounter as they start school this fall and enumerates the typical price of a beer, which can be as cheap as 25 cents. This study marks the first time that trained observers went into bars and liquor stores surrounding college campuses to obtain a national picture of the marketing practices for alcohol in college communities without relying solely on student recall.

"With its findings on the price and marketing sensitivity of high-risk, destructive binge drinking among college students, the Harvard study is testimony to the importance of a community-wide focus on behavior change strategies," said J. Michael McGinnis, MD, Senior Vice President and Director of the Health Group of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "These efforts must include not only college administrators and students, but local business and community leaders, civic organizations, and the alcohol industry as well."

A total of 1,684 off-premise establishments and 830 on-premise establishments were observed. Field data collectors received more than 22 hours of training, including both classroom instruction and supervised observations in the community.

College student binge drinking, as defined by Wechsler and other public health researchers, is the consumption of five or more drinks in a row at least once in the past two weeks for men, and four or more drinks in a row for women. Research has shown that this style of binge drinking is associated with lower grades, vandalism, and physical and sexual violence.

The researchers conclude that efforts to reduce problems associated with college binge drinking have focused primarily on education and changes in student behavior. However, the results of this study suggest that the efforts to regulate marketing practices (e.g. sale prices, super-sized packaging, promotions, and exterior advertisements) may be important strategies.


updated 12/13/16