Lower Quality of Life Reported by Residents Living Close to Colleges
BOSTON (July 3, 2002) – New findings from the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study show that neighbors living within one mile of college campuses are 135 percent more likely to suffer from public disturbances—also called “secondhand effects”—due to college students’ binge drinking, than those who live more than a mile from campus. Neighbors near high-binge colleges are also 81 percent more likely to experience these secondhand effects than those near low-binge colleges.
Secondhand effects include vandalism, assault, noise, litter, drunkenness, and other public disturbances. As a result of experiencing these effects, college neighbors reported a much lower quality of life.
“It’s appalling that the negative impact of binge drinking is reaching well beyond the college campus into nearby neighborhoods,” said Henry Wechsler, Ph.D., principal investigator of the study and director of the College Alcohol Studies. “Binge drinking not only presents a danger to binge drinkers and their classmates on campus, but also degrades the community life of residents in neighborhoods near the college.”
The study appears in the July 2002 issue of the international journal Social Science & Medicine (Volume 55, Number 3) and was funded by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The findings released today were based on a telephone survey of adults from 4,661 households in the United States. Reports from residents living near campus, who were asked about the quality of neighborhood life and the number of alcohol outlets—bars and liquor stores—in their neighborhood were compared with those residents who did not live near colleges.
Binge drinking is defined as men who had five or more—or women who had four or more—drinks in a row at least once in the two weeks prior to completing the survey. Secondhand effects are problems associated with high levels of alcohol use. High-binge colleges are those where 50 percent of students are found to binge drink.
These findings suggest that the number of nearby bars and liquor stores is associated with an increase in secondhand effects by those who live in the neighborhood. In fact, 92 percent of college neighbors living within a mile reported one or more alcohol outlets in the neighborhood. “Alcohol outlets attract students with drink specials that seem to foster a binge drinking environment,” said Wechsler. “As a result, residents are more likely to experience higher rates of neighborhood disruption.”
In addition, the study finds that income was significantly lower and there was a lower prevalence of homeowners among respondents living within a mile, than those living more than a mile from college.
“There’s a vicious cycle going on here,” said Wechsler. “Disadvantaged neighbors are less likely to prevent outlets from obtaining liquor licenses. This leads to a higher presence of bars and liquor stores, which then leads to a higher likelihood of neighborhood disruption and a lower quality of life and real estate values.”
Wechsler and his colleagues suggest that limiting the number of neighborhood alcohol outlets is one solution to reducing the amount of neighborhood disruptions and disconnecting the cycle.
Community leaders can also play an active role, according to Wechsler, “Community and city officials and local law enforcement officials need to pay attention to the complaints from residents who live near colleges. An important step would be to increase the policing of bars and liquor stores around campus.”
The researchers also suggest limiting the marketing practices that target college students, which many bars use to attract more customers.
“This problem won’t be fixed overnight,” said Wechsler. “The culture of binge drinking is entrenched in college life and compounded by the easy access of alcohol near campus. It’s unfortunate that college neighbors also have to experience the negative consequences of binge drinking. Both college administrators and city officials have to do their share to help address this critical problem and to relieve the plight of the neighborhoods.”
Co-authors of the article, “Secondhand Effects of Student Alcohol Use Reported By Neighbors of Colleges: The Role of Alcohol Outlets,” include: Jae Eun Lee, Dr. P.H.; John Hall, M.S.; Alexander C. Wagenaar, Ph.D., and Hang Lee, Ph.D.
Additional information on the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study can be found at: www.hsph.harvard.edu/cas.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, based on Princeton, N.J., is the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care. It concentrates its grant making in four goal areas: to assure that all Americans have access to basic health care at reasonable cost; to improve care and support for people with chronic health conditions; to promote healthy communities and lifestyles; and to reduce the personal, social, and economic harm caused by substance abuse—tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs.