College sports fans are more likely to binge drink than their non-sports fan peers, according to a report released this week by the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) College Alcohol Study and authored by HSPH lecturer Henry Wechsler.
The finding, to be published in the January-February issue of Addictive Behaviors, draws on Wechsler’s landmark 1999 study of the drinking habits of 14,000 college students and is the first study to focus on student fans rather than student-athletes.
The 1999 study prompted a crackdown on binge drinking on campuses nationwide.
According to the recent report, 53 percent of students who drink and identify themselves as sports fans—defined as those who rate attending sporting events as “important” or “very important”—usually binge when drinking.
That figure compares to 41 percent of male and 37 percent of female non-sports fan drinkers.
Wechsler defines binge drinking as five drinks for a male and four drinks for a female, a threshold other experts have criticized as too low.
The study also found that sports fans drank more often and were more likely to engage in violent behavior or have academic difficulties.
Wechsler has been an outspoken critic of lax attitudes toward on-campus drinking, and his research has been cited as justification for the ban of kegs at this year’s Harvard-Yale game.
Echoing the arguments of Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68, Wechsler pointed to efforts by the alcohol industry to market to college-aged sports fans as a reason for their binge drinking.
While sports fans are disproportionately young men—also the heaviest drinking demographic—Wechsler said, “they are also targeted by the alcohol industry through advertising and through special drink promotions.”
Alcohol industry representatives vehemently dispute this claim.
“What advertising cannot do is encourage people who don’t drink to drink and it cannot encourage people who drink to drink more,” said Jeff Becker, the president of the Beer Institute, an industry trade organization.
But Becker said that although college sports fans who can legally drink are an important marketing demographic, members of his organization do not target underage students.
Keg bans and marketing strategies aside, some Harvard students questioned whether the study is representative of Crimson fans.
Lauren M. Jiggetts ’03, vice president of the H-Club which organizes tailgates and other events for sports fans, said that alcohol isn’t the centerpiece of most fans’ experiences.
According to Jiggetts, the H-Club does not serve alcohol at its events, and many of its members are non-drinkers.
Jiggetts said that when the club brought a group of students to the University of Pennsylvania football game, “there was no emphasis on alcohol whatsoever.”
“The focus was entirely on the game,” she said.