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Alcohol-Related Cancer Awareness May Cut College Drinking

Update Date: Mar 25, 2014 03:14 PM EDT

For many of us college was a time of freedom, fun and fraternities. It's no secret that binge drinking is rampant among university students. The disastrous consequences associated with binge drinking like DUI and death makes alcohol on American campuses a public health concern that students and educators nationwide need to deal with.

While eliminating booze on college campuses is almost impossible, new research shows that education may help lower the rate of dangerous binge drinking among college students. Researchers at the University of Buffalo, State University of New York discovered that exposure to risk messages linking alcohol to cancer significantly diminishes the desire to binge drink in college students.

Lead researchers Cindy Yixin Chen and Z. Janet Yang of the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, carried out a an online survey in which an experiment was embedded among a sample of college students. Researchers said the point of the study was to see if risk perception of alcohol-attributable cancer could reduce intention for binge drinking.

While taking the survey, participants were exposed to a short risk message presenting alcohol-attributable cancer incidence in textual, tabular, or graphic format. Researchers said the point of this was to see if risk messages about alcohol-attributable cancer in different formats (text, table, graph) have different influences on risk perception.

The findings revealed that the risk of alcohol-related cancer was presented in visual tables and graphs increased participants' risk perception and in turn, their reluctance to engage in binge drinking.

While previous research has examined college students' perceptions of risk from experiencing alcohol-related problems such as having a hangover, feeling nauseated or vomiting, experiencing blackouts, drunk driving, and unplanned sex, researchers said the latest study is the first to assess what formats of messages regarding alcohol-attributable cancer are best to reduce the risk of this dangerous behavior.

"Binge-drinking among college students has been recognized as one of the most serious public health concerns for over a decade. The current alcohol-prevention campaigns generally focus on consequences of binge drinking, such as DUI, unintended injuries, death, or a series of health and psychological problems. These negative consequences are well-known, and students hear these repeatedly, which may incur message fatigue," Chen said in a news release.

"The risk messages we designed focused on the cancer incidence rates attributable to drinking. This is an innovative approach in message design, as not many college students know the association between drinking and cancer," Chen added.

The findings are to be presented at the 64th Annual International Communication Association Conference, Seattle, WA, in May.

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