Fewer students drinking and smoking regularly, MSU survey finds

Posted at 12:41 PM, Nov 09, 2016

Fewer Michigan State University students are drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes on a regular basis, according to the State of Spartan Health survey, which is conducted every two years to assess the health of students on campus.

“The percentage of students who have used alcohol during a month’s time has continually dropped to its lowest point ever since we started conducting the survey back in 2000,” said Dennis Martell, health promotion director at Olin Student Health Center. “Smoking has definitely declined as well due to its known health risks.”

Although many may view these results as surprising after a recent weekend involving a big rivalry game, Martell said these individual occasions aren’t representative of what really is happening on campus.

“From a broader perspective, student drinking is down,” Martell said. “But we still have challenges as to how we educate and control celebratory drinking. It’s a much more difficult situation to handle because many people, beyond just students, approve of drinking during these instances.”

Overall, survey results showed a 9 percent decrease between 2000 and 2016 in the number of students who said they drank one or more days the previous month. Smoking also dropped during this timeframe with a 70 percent decrease. This year alone, 89 percent of students reported either not smoking at all or not smoking in the last month.

In August, MSU became a tobacco-free campus in an effort to further promote healthy behaviors on campus. More than eight out of 10 respondents in the survey said they supported the policy change.

The survey results are part of MSU's involvement in the National College Health Assessment Survey. Administered by MSU's Institute for Public Policy and Social Research, more than 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students took part in the survey this year.

“Alcohol consumption is an area where we’ve partnered with others to reduce drinking and promote behaviors that help protect students from bad consequences,” Martell said. “The goal is not to increase abstinence necessarily, but rather reduce the chance of harm physically and even academically as a result of drinking.”

Only 5.8 percent of students reported this year that alcohol has negatively affected their academic performance. This number is down from over 10 percent of students in 2000. Results also indicated that students have started using more protective behaviors when consuming alcohol. For example, close to 60 percent of students this year said they’ve relied on friends to help them know when they’ve had enough to drink.

“Students are listening to our messages and watching out for one another more,” Martell said.

MSU is leading the National Social Norms Center, which connects other universities with each other and offers ways to share programs and trend data that can help combat harmful behaviors on college campuses across the country and promote academic success.

Other survey findings include:

  • Nearly 90 percent of students indicated their health was good or better.
  • The average blood alcohol content of undergraduate students the “last time they partied” continued to drop and fell from .069 in 2014 to .055 in 2016. The legal limit is .080.
  • Ninety-three percent of students said they felt safe on campus during the daytime, with 80 percent of students feeling very safe or somewhat safe on campus during nighttime hours.
  • Stress continues to be an issue when it comes to academic performance. Fifty-two percent of students reported that they’ve experienced either tremendous stress or average stress this year, yet more students are now indicating that they are willing to seek help in order to cope with stress-related factors.

The Neighborhood Student Success Collaborative, or NSSC, is another MSU program that helps students make better health decisions and offers support in areas that will increase student success.

Started in 2010, the NSSC has drawn national recognition and links students to engagement centers in five residential areas on campus. Students can find immediate assistance from academic advisers, health care providers, intercultural specialists and residence life coordinators.

“We continue to see the overall health of MSU students improve, yet as we become more diverse in our campus population, we need to readily adapt to this change and make sure we address the unique health needs of all students,” Martell said.