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Programs Help Take Risky Behavior Out of the Game

Posted on Friday, July 23, 2004

Multi-school study of college student-athletes shows dramatic success using social norms to reduce alcohol and tobacco use and increase academic engagement

(July 23, 2004) CHICAGO --The results are in, and they show that student-athletes are making smart choices when it comes to substance use. So say Hobart and William Smith Colleges Professors H. Wesley Perkins and David W. Craig, along with Sarah MacInnis, assistant director of Education Outreach for the NCAA in Indianapolis, Ind. The trio presented the findings of a joint, two-year study on student-athletes and drinking at the National Conference on the Social Norms Model, held in Chicago on July 22.

The findings stemmed from two projects launched in 2001 designed to promote health among student-athletes at Division III schools. The Most Valuable Player (MVP) Project, developed at Hobart and William Smith (HWS), was an intensive social norms intervention for student-athletes modeled after a similar, highly successful program at that institution for students in general. Supported by a grant from the United States Department of Education, the project used an anonymous Web-based survey to gather information on the personal attitudes, behaviors and perceived peer norms among student-athletes at HWS. (See http://alcohol.hws.edu/mvp)

Adopting the MVP model, the STARR MVP Project was implemented by the National Collegiate Athletic Association at five other Division III schools throughout the Northeast and Midwest, with annual data collection between 2001 and 2003.

Results are based on 1,140 student-athlete survey respondents in the HWS MVP Project and 3,487 respondents in the five-school STARR MVP Project. Comparisons between Fall 2001 and Fall 2002-03 data show a 46 percent reduction in student-athletes drinking more than once a week in the MVP Project, while the STARR MVP program recorded an 18 percent dip. Tobacco use also took a dive, with 38 percent and 31 percent reductions marked in the MVP and STARR MVP projects, respectively. Each study also showed an increase in hours per week spent on academic activities for undergrads who play collegiate sports.

"Student-athletes have received more than their share of negative press in the past," Craig said. "This project gave colleges the opportunity to celebrate and make more public the healthy choices that most student-athletes are already making. This social norms program, targeting student-athlete populations, has reduced problem behaviors and negative consequences faster and to a greater extent than any other program in the past."

Perkins adds that other projects nationwide have not seen nearly as high a success rate as these programs. "Our results demonstrate a dramatic decrease in dangerous behavior due to an intensive social norms intervention," he said.

For more information on the project, visit http://alcohol.hws.edu.

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