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Alcohol education gets personal
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A new alcohol education program at the University of Iowa is getting personal.
The program, called eCheckup To Go, surveys students on their alcohol and tobacco habits, their perceptions of other students’ drinking habits, and their life and career goals.
It then uses that data to create an instant customized profile that includes alcohol use patterns, estimated blood-alcohol levels, and a chart that shows how their drinking habits compare to those of other UI students, as well as assessing current and future alcohol-related risks and how they relate to self-reported goals.
It also breaks down the data into tangible financial and physical costs. Drink four beers a week? That’s the caloric equivalent of about two cheeseburgers, and it would take running at a pace of 6 miles per hour for about an hour to burn it off. Oh, and that habit probably costs at least $630 per year, which could have covered a couple of car payments or a plane ticket to London.
All data students enter is confidential and anonymous.
“The goal is to find some piece of information that appeals to the student, that makes them say, ‘I should really change that,’” says Steph Beecher, health educator with Health Iowa, the health promotion and education branch of UI Student Health Service. “You can teach someone all the facts about something, but if they’re not motivated to change, then that teaching isn’t effective.”
The program is one piece of an online course called College Expectations. The course, which is required of all incoming first-year and transfer students, also includes a sexual assault prevention program and, for first-year students only, a college transition survey.
“eCheckup To Go tailors all the information it delivers to each individual student, and challenges perceptions that everyone drinks. It’s all about harm reduction and making small changes to reduce negative consequences,” Beecher says.
Beecher and other university staff hope that the personalized, evidence-based approach makes students more motivated to adapt the program’s suggested behavior modifications (for example: avoiding drinking games, sticking to a pre-determined limit of how much to spend during a night out, or spending more time with friends who don’t drink).
eCheckup To Go was developed by San Diego State University, and is used on more than 550 universities and colleges in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Ireland. At Iowa, it replaces AlcoholEDU, the online alcohol prevention program that Iowa used for the past three years. And it comes with a lower price tag. The university pays just $975 annually for eCheckup To Go, versus $30,600 for AlcoholEDU. That leaves more money in the budget for other student health programs.
“This is just one piece of the prevention puzzle,” notes Beecher. “There are so many more initiatives in this community to supportive positive change. We can’t do it alone. Parents of undergraduates can have an especially big impact. We encourage them to talk with their students. Ask if they learned anything from the program. Incorporate it into conversations.”