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November 20, 1997

For More Information

George Hacker
202-332-9110 ext. 343

Michael B. McFarland, UNC, 919/962-2091

Linda Grace-Kobas, Cornell, 607/255-4206

Media Project Launched to Combat College Binge Drinking

Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Cornell University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) today launched a first-of-its-kind research and advocacy communications project to reduce binge drinking among college students and improve the quality of life on college campuses.

The collaboration, supported by a $570,000 grant from the Ithaca, New York-based Park Foundation, will generate a hard-hitting, attention-grabbing, potentially humorous, highly visible and provocative media campaign reaching three classes of incoming first-year students on the two campuses, beginning in the fall of 1998. The pilot project aims to develop a model communications package of print and radio ads that can be used to combat binge drinking at traditional four-year colleges across the nation.

Working closely with students, faculty, administration, fraternities and sororities, and members of the Ithaca and Chapel Hill communities, the project will focus on changing student cultures that today encourage and tolerate irresponsible alcohol consumption. The campaign will seek to inspire fundamental changes in the campus drinking environment and in students' attitudes toward quality of life issues.

UNC Chancellor Michael Hooker said, "To win the war against college binge drinking, our students must become convinced that it's not in their best interests to drink solely to get drunk. To change a firmly fixed culture, we're going to have to win students over by reaching their hearts and minds. Carolina's participation in this exciting new project with CSPI and Cornell has the potential to do just that."

Cornell University President Hunter Rawlings added, "We are pleased to initiate this project with CSPI and UNC. We aim to change a student culture that supports heavy and dangerous alcohol consumption. We know the task is ambitious, and that we cannot expect to achieve 100% success; but there is no better time than now to expand our current efforts, build on the progress we have made, and test a model program for the nation."

The planned media campaigns will rely heavily on advice and information derived from students at the two campuses. George Hacker, director of the Alcohol Policies Project at CSPI, who will head the project, emphasized the importance of student involvement in the development of the media campaign. He said, "Our messages won't preach to students; they will be student-generated and crafted.

"Unlike many previous campaigns that promote certain behaviors or discourage others, we plan a hard-hitting, funny, perhaps off-beat, advertising blitz that will dwarf past attempts to stir student consciousness about binge drinking."

The collaborative effort is, in part, a response to widespread, serious alcohol problems on college campuses throughout the country. A 1996 nationwide survey of 89,874 students on 171 college campuses, led by Cheryl Presley and Philip Meilman of the Core Institute at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, revealed that 42% of students reported "binge drinking" (five or more drinks in a row) during the past two weeks. Approximately half of all male students and one-third of female students reported binging on alcohol. Twenty-eight percent of students reported binge drinking more than once in the previous two weeks, and almost 6% reported more than five binge-drinking episodes during that time span.

The widely publicized recent tragic deaths from alcohol poisoning at two U.S. colleges represent only the most extreme consequences of heavy drinking among students. Core Survey researchers have documented that almost 60% of students reported hangovers, 47% reported nausea and vomiting, and 32% reported driving under the influence (no arrest).

Project goals include empowering students to support formal and informal practices and policies on campus that enhance positive lifestyle choices and discourage alcohol-related behaviors that negatively affect overall campus well-being. Students, as well as the entire university community, will be encouraged to embrace new standards of group responsibility that reject the self-destructive and potentially dangerous excessive use of alcohol, particularly for first-year students, who are most likely to engage in unsafe drinking.

Mo Nathan, president of the student body at UNC, said, "There are two ways to approach the problem of alcohol abuse among young people today -- you can ignore it or you can do something about it. Carolina has taken positive steps to change the culture of binge drinking, and we intend to stay in the forefront of tackling this thorny problem."

Stephen R. Rockwell, student trustee at Cornell, agreed, "Colleges must re-examine the messages they send students about drinking. Alcohol has become a central focus of the social life on campuses across the nation and here at Cornell. The CSPI project has a high likelihood of succeeding, because of its plan to include students, faculty, administration, and professionals."

William Warren, Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity president at UNC, added, "The CSPI project focuses on two schools that are among the best in the nation, in terms of academics and quality of life. The results could very well serve as a revolutionary model for the rest of the nation."

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Cornell University are leading academic and research institutions dedicated to creating a healthy living environment for students. Both have active and aggressive student and health services programs designed to reduce alcohol problems on campus. Their efforts to cut binge drinking among students have included holding fun alcohol-free social events, improving freshman orientation programs on alcohol issues, encouraging students to seek counseling for substance-abuse problems, promoting peer education programs, and implementing other policies and programs designed to reduce the pressure on students to drink.

CSPI is a nonprofit health-advocacy organization that focuses on nutrition, food safety, and alcohol problems. It is based in Washington, D.C. and is supported by foundation grants and the one million subscribers to its Nutrition Action Healthletter. It does not accept industry or government funding. Since 1981, CSPI's Alcohol Policies Project has advocated policies to reduce the devastating health and social consequences of drinking. CSPI led efforts to win passage of the law requiring warning labels on alcoholic beverages and has halted several deceptive marketing campaigns for those products.

The Park Foundation is named for the late Roy H. Park, who had long-standing affiliations with both Cornell and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Park Foundation currently is providing substantial support for graduate fellowships at Cornell's Graduate School of Management and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Chapel Hill, and also has awarded grants to a number of other academic programs at the two institutions.