Student drinking stats fuzzy

Posted on Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Toronto Star, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 

Excess a myth: beer firms' survey Twice a month or once a week?


Canadian university and college students think their friends drink more than they actually do, according to a survey paid for by an association of Canadian beer companies.

As frosh week beer kegs were tapped across the GTA yesterday, the Student Life Education Company reported that two-thirds or so drink no more than twice a month, but that 80 per cent of students actually believe that their peers drink more: once a week.

But when it comes to who is drinking how much, the bartender is the only one who knows for sure.

In 2000, researchers at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health at the University of Toronto found that Canadian students do, on average, drink at least once a week, according to the Canadian Campus Survey. They also found that the average student takes in more than six drinks a week.

But the people at the Student Life Education Company, who call their own findings "groundbreaking," don't buy it. "I don't think you'll find that most students go out once a week drinking, that's a misperception," said Wes Perkins, a sociologist who designed and analyzed the Student Life Education survey from the Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York.

When students think their fellow students drink a lot, they are at a greater risk of drinking to excess themselves, Perkins said, outlining what he called the social norms theory. However, if students begin to realize that their peers don't drink all that much then they will cut down their consumption.

The key, Perkins said, to getting Canadian students to drink responsibly is to get them to realize that their peers don't drink very much.

"It's what I call a reign of error on campus," he said yesterday in the same building at Victoria College that houses the Cat's Eye Pub, a popular University of Toronto drinking spot.

"This misperception is a virus and it's contagious, and it gets spread around as people talk about it and exaggerate their claims."

The survey was given to about 5,000 students in seven provinces, not including Quebec, the province with the country's heaviest student drinkers, the Canadian Campus Survey reported. It also found that two-thirds of students drink up to four drinks on a night out, yet most students think their friends drink more.

With its survey findings, the Student Life Education Company plans to develop marketing campaigns that "provide students with an accurate picture of drinking behaviour that encourages them to drink responsibly," said Fran Wdowczyk, the company's executive director.

On display at Victoria College yesterday were some of the marketing materials, including a vinyl meal-card carrier covered with drinking stats like "93% do not let alcohol affect their academic work."

The Brewers of Canada, an association that promotes the interests of Canadian beer companies, funded the study as part of its "social and corporate responsibility," said Jeff Newton, president and CEO.



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