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Study: Campus diversity may cut binge drinking

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BOSTON, Massachusetts (Reuters) -- Greater diversity on college campuses significantly lowers rates of binge drinking among high-risk students, according to results of a Harvard University study released Thursday.

The research may enable college administrators to fine-tune their admissions and housing policies to cut rates of binge drinking, study authors said.

"If you have younger white males together to the exclusion of other groups, you're going to have fewer role models for lighter or nondrinking behavior," Henry Wechsler, the study's lead author, told Reuters. "That may explain why fraternities have had such a high level of drinking problems."

Blamed for a range of ills from poor grades, vandalism and sexual violence to full-scale campus riots, binge drinking remains a major problem at U.S. colleges despite years of prevention efforts.

Wechsler said 44 percent of students at four-year colleges can be described as binge drinkers. For men, this means they have consumed five or more alcoholic drinks in a row at least once in a two-week period; for women, it means they consumed at least four drinks in a row over the same period.

Previous studies have shown that binge-drinking rates vary greatly among certain student subgroups. For example, African- and Asian-American, female and older students have lower rates of binge drinking than do white, male and younger students.

To come up with new ways of tackling the problem, Wechsler and his colleagues decided to look at demographics on college campuses.

They found that the greater presence of groups at lower risk of binge-drinking seemed to have a moderating effect on the high-risk groups.

The binge rate among white students was about 54 percent at a school with little racial diversity; it dropped 10 percentage points at schools with more differences in racial makeup. At schools with more older students, the rate of underage binge drinking was about 37 percent compared to nearly 50 percent at other universities.

The study, which appeared the November issue of the American Journal of Public Health, was based on data from 52,312 college students at 114 predominantly white colleges from the 1993, 1997, 1999 and 2001 College Alcohol Study surveys.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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