Thursday, March 9, 2006

From confusing data released by the American Medical Association, The Washington Times misreported the number of college students who said in a survey that it was easy to get alcohol while on spring break. The Times said 92 percent of 664 respondents made such a statement. However, this percentage referred only to the 174 respondents who actually went on spring break.

Leading researchers have discovered the obvious: College kids, booze and bikinis are a dangerous mixture.

Spring break has become an unhealthy “binge-fest,” says the head of a major medical association, citing a poll that shows that 74 percent of female college students agree that alcohol is an excuse for outrageous behavior.

“Spring break is broken,” Dr. J. Edward Hill, president of the American Medical Association, said yesterday.

Many spring break promoters spend months marketing trips to college students that tout opportunities for drinking alcohol, he said. For example, one promoter’s Web site told students not to worry about the quality of water in Cancun, Mexico, “because you will be drinking beer.”

In the AMA survey of 664 women, ages 17 to 35, who are current or former college students:

• More than 90 percent said it was “easy” for underage students to drink on spring break.

• Seventy-four percent said women used drinking as an excuse for “outrageous behavior,” such as public nudity, dancing on tables and participating in drinking contests.

• Eighty-three percent said they had friends who drank most nights while on spring break.

• Fifty-nine percent said they knew people during spring break who had been sexually active with more than one partner.

“What was a traditional time to relax and take a break from college studies has turned into a dangerous binge-fest,” said Dr. Hill, citing reports of fatalities, rapes, assaults and accidents associated with spring break destinations.

He recommended that colleges restrict on-campus alcohol advertising and increase promotion of “alternative” spring breaks that feature alcohol-free tours or community service.

In the United States, “spring break” typically falls between late February and early April, with most college campuses closing during the first or second week of March.

In 2000, at least 1.25 million students spent $1 billion at spring break gatherings, Murray Sperber says in his book “Beer and Circus.” Mr. Sperber also estimated that companies spent $50 million promoting their products to students on spring break trips.

Numerous spring break Web sites offer low-cost package deals to sites in Mexico, Florida, Texas, Jamaica and the Bahamas. The Web sites typically promote drinking opportunities. One has listed Cancun bars that are back in operation after the devastation of Hurricane Wilma in October.

Joseph A. Califano Jr., former secretary of health, education and welfare, decried industry support for this “Roman bacchanalia of sex, drugs and booze.”

College coeds are especially at risk because women become addicted to alcohol, drugs and tobacco faster and easier than men, said Mr. Califano, chairman of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, which last month released “Women Under the Influence,” a book about female substance abuse.

Parents should resist the pressure to pay for spring break trips for their college-age children, he added. “This is not a rite of passage.”

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