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Commentary: New study at UB shows innovative risk messages curb alcohol binges

At the University at Buffalo (State University of New York), an innovative approach to curbing binge drinking has attracted international notice.

There may be more than one practical takeaway from the study. Cindy Yikin Chen and Z. Janet Yang will present their findings, "Message Format, Numeracy, Risk Perception of Alcohol-Attributable Cancer, and Intention for Binge Drinking among College Students,” at the 64th Annual International Communication Association Conference, Seattle, WA, to be held from May 22-26.

The researchers found that when information about binge drinking concerned alcohol-related cancer, students were more influenced by tables and graphs than by text.

Subsequently, their perception of that particular health risk resulted in an increased resistance to binge drinking. Science Daily online quoted Chen:

"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…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."

Recently in the news, alcohol has often been correlated with campus sexual assault, including rape. But because alcohol impairs the ability to give or receive consent, it is the consent or lack of consent that is the real issue, not the alcohol in and of itself. And besides alcohol, drugs that can be administered secretly should also be considered when discussing the inability to give or receive consent or lack of consent.

For these reasons, further research might see if risk messages about alcohol-related cancer or risk messages about drugs and health might reduce campus sexual assault as well. Additionally, risk messages relating to campus sexual assault in general might be issued in table and graph formats to see if they impact intent.

Linda Chalmer Zemel teaches in the Communication Department at SUNY Buffalo State College.