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Harvard binge drinking study misleading

By Wildcat Opinions Board
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
March 23, 2000
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According to a recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health, binge drinking is on the rise on college campus throughout the United States.

More men, the study reports, are consuming at least five alcoholic drinks in one sitting, and more women are having four or more drinks.

What is troubling about this study is not that students are drinking more, but the definition - and time element - used by Harvard to classify "binge drinkers."

In the study, Harvard researchers used 14 days as block of time to define whether or not a student is a binge drinker. So, according to the question asked to 14,000 students from 119 universities, a scholar who goes out to the bar every other Saturday and drinks five cold ones is a binge drinker.

Using two weeks as a timeline is absurd, and what's more ridiculous is the study failed to take into account a person's weight, which directly affects tolerance.

"Someone could go out and have three or four drinks over a large time frame and it could have no effect on them because of their body weight," said Carolyn Collins, UA Campus Health coordinator for alcohol and other drug prevention.

Not only that, but a student could also do this only twice a month, yet still be labeled as a binge drinker.

By nature, "binge drinking" is a loaded term. It's connotation implies that a person has a serious problem with alcohol.

Monitoring the consumption of alcohol - especially on college campuses - is an important action that needs to be done. Students, parents and campus officials need to be aware of the latest trends so they are sufficiently aware of the dangers associated with such actions. This is inarguable.

However, if a reputable institution such as the Harvard School of Public Health is going to conduct a survey that attempts to do this, the study needs to be fair and useful so that we may appropriately address any problems.

For example, how does "binge drinking" affect a student's grade point average and his or her ability to graduate in four or five years? What are some of the long-term consequences - if there are any - of "binge drinking?" What can we do to curb this problem?

Creating a study that labels people as binge drinkers is pointless if the definition of the problem is skewed. According to the Harvard definition and an informal Arizona Daily Wildcat poll of 100 students, 50 percent of UA students would qualify as binge drinkers.

This statistic may be accurate, but it is doubtful that 17,500 UA students are problem drinkers, which the connotation of binge drinking implies.

Harvard should refine their study and create a new report that give society usable results that can lead to viable solutions.

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