Surveys meant to depict typical UA lifestyles

By Ariel Serafin
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 10, 2005

Students who view posters modeling the results of the annual UA "Health and Wellness Survey" may question the validity of the statistics, but survey administrators said the student population is accurately represented.

The survey asks questions about student alcohol, drug and tobacco use, sexual habits and physical fitness. The results are printed on posters around campus in residence halls and academic buildings.

Many of these posters display statistics such as "74 percent of students do not use tobacco," "91 percent of students exercise at least once a week" and "98 percent of students respect a partner's wishes if they do not want to have intercourse."

"We try to select the messages that students feel are the most important," said David Salafsky, health educator for Health Promotions and Preventative Services.

Taryn Maggi, a pre-business sophomore, said she questions if the posters tell the true tales of typical UA student lifestyles.

"I think that they're fake and that the U of A puts them up to try and stop things like underage drinking," Maggi said. "My friends and I always laugh because we're in the slight percentage that does the opposite (of the posters' norm.)"

But Salafsky said Health Promotions and Preventative Services ensures the statistics are correct by choosing a completely random and large sample size.

The decision of which courses the surveys are distributed is determined by a random selection from the entire schedule of undergraduate classes, ranging from general education to upper-division courses, he said.

"Our intent is really to portray accurate information and give that to the students," Salafsky said. "Otherwise, we'd just be guessing."

Salafsky said it was important for students to realize that obtaining good data didn't require speaking with every student on campus.

Last year's sample size of 2,036 students was obtained by a mathematical formula, and involved more respondents than is typically used to represent the opinions of the 280 million Americans in national polls, Salafsky said.

Salafsky also cited how responses have not varied much in the 10 years the survey has been administered, which he said is another testament to its validity. The alternative option would be to listen to hearsay, which is far less reliable, he said.

"If you look at scientific literature, self-report data is very valid," Salafsky said.

While the survey results are accurate, Salafsky said, they are not always published.

"It just depends what the info is going to be used for," Salafsky said. "Some of it is used to help better serve students."

The information that isn't posted around campus is used instead to improve the quality of student health and wellness, Salafsky said, and sometimes these results inspire new ideas for programs and services.

The funds for the survey and these services come from part of a two-year grant from the College of Education, said Carolyn Collins, Health Promotions and Preventive Services director.

The grant, which supplies the UA with about $144,000 a year, is used to fund the survey as well as community outreach programs, personnel costs and evaluations on the program, Collins said.