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Study: UW-Madison students who drink live closer to bars, liquor stores than those who don’t drink

Study: UW-Madison students who drink live closer to bars, liquor stores than those who don’t drink


The CAP Times

By Pat Schneider

August 19, 2015

UW-Madison students who drink – and binge drink – alcohol tend to live closer to alcohol outlets than students who don’t drink, according to a study published in WMJ, the scientific journal of the Wisconsin Medical Society.


The study of 166 UW-Madison students found that, on average, students who did not drink lived nearly a half-mile further from the nearest alcohol outlet than drinkers, and that more than double the number of alcohol outlets were within a half-mile of where drinkers lived compared to nondrinkers.


The average alcohol outlet density within a two-mile radius of the students’ residences in dorms and apartments was 245 outlets, the study found.


The participants in this study looking at the density and proximity of alcohol outlets were enrolled in a broader multi-site study across the United States designed to assess a variety of health behaviors among college students.


They identified themselves as non-drinkers, drinkers or binge drinkers through a survey on their alcohol drinking habits.


The study also yielded demographic information about drinking students at UW-Madison:


Drinkers represented 76 percent of subjects in the study, with an average age of 19.4 years.


Sixty-five percent of freshman represented themselves as drinkers, compared to 82 percent of sophomores and 84 percent of juniors.


There was a greater prevalence of drinkers among whites – 79 percent —compared to non-whites, 57 percent.


The proportion of women and men drinkers was similar; as were the percentages of drinkers living in on-campus housing and in off-campus housing.


The high number of outlets is relevant to the troubling observation in this study that 76 percent of participants under age 21 years were drinkers, the study’s authors noted.


“Our small sample may not be representative of the more than 40,000 students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but underage drinking prevalence in Wisconsin was higher than the national average from 2004-2010,” they said, citing other research.


The authors note that while cause and effect cannot be implied, the associations observed in their study may have important considerations for those who are invested in preventing drinking and binge drinking on college campuses.


“The results presented here equally suggest that close proximity may promote consumption or that alcohol consumers choose to live close to the points of sale,” the authors wrote. “The former scenario identifies factors potentially amenable to prevention strategies at the policy level, and the latter scenario identifies a characteristic of a population at high risk of excessive drinking, which could lend itself to public health strategies to curb drinking.”


UW-Madison has had programs for decades aimed at reducing student drinking for health and scholastic reasons.


As for the density of alcohol outlets in the campus area, the city of Madison last year eased a cap on alcohol licenses in the downtown area – imposed because of problems from excessive drinking – to allow new licenses for brew pubs and nightclubs but not taverns or liquor stores.


This year, Mayor Paul Soglin floated the idea of a moratorium on all liquor licenses in the State Street area while work on a plan to bring more retail stores back to the strip is underway.


“Municipal and college administrators could consider the proximity and density of alcohol outlets in conjunction with other strategies to mitigate the negative economic, personal, and societal impacts of this behavior,” the study’s authors conclude.