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Counseling Sessions May Impact Student Use of Alcohol, Junk Food and Help Reduce Stress

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By Chad Binette

A University of Central Florida study is examining how much influence health-care providers can have in helping students drink less alcohol, eat more nutritious meals, reduce stress and take other steps to lead healthier lives.

The study divides students into two groups. Both groups first complete a questionnaire that asks them about alcohol use, eating habits, stress, exercise and other issues. Students in one group later have two 20-minute sessions with a health-care professional, while the second group does not.

Dr. James Schaus, a UCF Health Services physician and the lead researcher in the project, said the study's results may demonstrate that colleges throughout the country should focus more on preventative health care. He believes such care is especially important for college students.

"The decisions these students are making now will impact the rest of their lives," he said.

Schaus is hopeful that an increased emphasis on preventative care can help students reduce alcohol consumption, overcome eating disorders and better cope with stress that they experience at times such as final exams or the end of relationships.

Two UCF Health Services physicians, a physician's assistant and a nurse practitioner meet one-on-one with the students. Each professional tries to build a rapport with the students and connect with them through motivational interviewing techniques. They only discuss issues about which students are comfortable talking.

If a student who may be drinking too much expresses concern about her weight, for example, the health care professional might point out how many calories some drinks contain. A student who is concerned about his finances might cut down on alcohol consumption if he finds out he has been spending $2,500 a year on drinks.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism is providing $645,000 over two years for UCF to conduct the study. One goal of the study is to determine whether the meetings with health-care providers help to reduce high-risk drinking, which is defined as male students consuming more than five drinks in a row and females at least four in a row during the past two weeks.

Excessive alcohol use is the most significant public health problem on college campuses, Schaus said. About 600,000 college students in theUnited Stateseach year are unintentionally injured under the influence of alcohol, and 1,700 die each year from unintentional, alcohol-related injuries, according to a 2002 study by the NIAAA.

Students meet individually with a health-care professional twice, two weeks and four weeks after completing the initial questionnaire. Students in both groups take short online surveys three months, six months, nine months and one year after the initial questionnaire. The surveys will help researchers determine the effectiveness of the one-on-one meetings with health care professionals and measure how willing students are to change their behavior.

More than 170 students have signed up for the study, and UCF hopes a total of 400 will participate this year. Students can sign up by going to theHealthCenterand filling out the initial patient information form available at the front desk. Each participant in the study is paid $100.

Schaus was a family physician in Maitland for 18 years before he came to UCF four years ago. Dr. Michael Deichen, UCF Health Services' associate director for clinical services; Mary Lou Sole, a nursing professor; Michael Dunn, an associate professor of psychology; Laura Riddle, associate director of Alcohol and Other Drug Counseling Services; and Natalie Mullett, project coordinator, are assisting with the research.

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