College students--especially lower classmen--are still getting F's in responsible drinking, according to a new report from the Harvard School of Public Health. The paper, which appears in the July issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, is only the latest from lead author Henry Wechsler to highlight an alarming trend in campus consumption. In 1998 the researchers reported that the prevalence of binge drinking--defined as five or more drinks in a row for men and four or more for women--had remained at a little over 40 percent, or largely unchanged since 1993. The finding was especially surprising that year, when more than 30 undergraduates died in the U.S. as a result of excessive drinking.

The new study, which Wechsler undertook with colleagues from Harvard, UCLA and St. Joseph's University, is no less startling. Among the 7,000 co-eds under age 21 in their survey, most reported that it was "easy" or "very easy" to obtain alcohol inexpensively, which Wechsler says helps fuel binge drinking. Indeed, some 42 percent of this group had binged within the past 30 days, compared to 27 percent of approximately 5,000 older students also interviewed. Other highlights are summarized in the charts below.

Despite the fact that many universities have dried out in recent years, the researchers suggest stricter enforcement of drinking-age laws at bars and legislation targeting happy hours, alcohol promotions and the sale of beer in kegs. And on campus, fraternities should not be able to charge admission fees entitling guests to unlimited drinking. Says Wechsler, "Eliminating this practice of selling alcohol without a license should be a priority."

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Photographs: BCCA