Health: Reducing the risk of the student lifestyle

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It’s an integral part of the university experience for most – but the student lifestyle can take its toll.

Drinking and socialising are often as much part of doing a degree as going to lectures.

Alcohol is linked to so many parts of campus life, as well as supporting a significant part of the economy.

But it also brings problems, such as high levels of admissions to hospital in Leeds due to booze.

Research by Leeds University in 2012, which was looking at various aspects of students’ lifestyles, found that they didn’t go out every day – but when they did, most were drinking more than the Government’s recommended amount of alcohol.

This is an issue which health bosses in the city are keen to tackle.

“It showed something needed to be put in done and put in place to make sure they don’t drink above these recommended levels,” said Chloe Edwards, alcohol harm reduction project coordinator for Leeds University Union.

Her role is to run a project which was commissioned by NHS Leeds West Clinical Commissioning Group to try to understand the motivations behind binge drinking, and to encourage students to reduce their intake of alcohol.

Since September, Chloe has been looking at what actions can be taken or how services can be changed to help ensure that students at the city’s three universities remain safe.

The work has been focused on four main areas education, night safety, sports clubs and licensing. Under those headings, a range of different things have been happening.

The reason they’ve prioritised education, Chloe said, was that they realised students didn’t have much knowledge about the harm that drinking too much can cause to their health.

To tackle this, they’ve created an online training tool which will be distributed throughout the city’s institutions and which aims to boost awareness, not just about drinking itself but on issues which may come up when they are out – such as where to go for help or how to find their way home safely.

“We are aware students are going to drink, but when they do, we want to make sure they get home safely,” Chloe added.

They’re also hoping to relaunch a safe spaces scheme, which identifies venues where students can go if they feel vulnerable or threatened, or simply need somewhere safe to wait for a friend or get a taxi.

Other measures put in place as part of the project include the introduction of a responsible retailing scheme involving the students union bar staff, setting up a safe travel scheme with a taxi firm and promoting the night bus for students as a way to get home after a night out.

It is hoped the scheme will continue beyond the summer, with future initiatives planned such as a campaign to try to make drinking soft drinks on nights out more socially acceptable.

“We don’t want to force students into things, we want them to be able to take this information and realise it’s important to change their behaviour,” Chloe added.

“That’s not going to happen overnight and we want to make sure while they are drinking, they stay safe.”

So far, not only are signs of change already being seen, but last month Chloe was invited to speak at a national conference.

She said: “I’m extremely pleased to be invited to speak at the conference. The work we are doing isn’t about stopping students drinking completely but raising awareness of the health and other associated risks linked to excessive alcohol consumption.

“We have made significant progress in a short time and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have supported us in getting to this point.”

Dr Mark Fuller, clinical lead for public health at NHS Leeds West CCG, added: “With such a large population of students in Leeds it is vital healthcare organisations, the council and the universities work with businesses to ensure they can stay safe and healthy while enjoying their time in our great city.

“We know that going to university is a chance for young people to enjoy greater independence and have a good time, we just want to ensure they are aware of any long-term consequences linked to alcohol.”

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