Aims: To examine the geographic density of alcohol outlets and associations with drinking levels and related problems among university students.
Design: Cross-sectional survey study using geospatial data, with campus-level and individual-level analyses.
Participants: A total of 2550 students (mean age 20.2, 60% women) at six university campuses in New Zealand (63% response).
Measurements: Counts of alcohol outlets within 3 km of each campus were tested for their non-parametric correlation with aggregated campus drinking levels and related problems. Generalized estimating equations were used to model the relation between outlet counts within 1 km and 3 km of student residences and individual drinking levels/problems, with control for gender, age, ethnicity and high school binge drinking frequency, and adjustment for campus-level clustering.
Findings: Correlations for campus-level data were 0.77 (P = 0.07) for drinking and personal problems, and 0.31 (P = 0.54) for second-hand effects. There were consistent significant associations of both on- and off-licence outlet densities with all outcomes in student-level adjusted models. Effects were largest for 1 km densities and off-licence outlets.
Conclusions: There are positive associations between alcohol outlet density and individual drinking and related problems. Associations remain after controlling for demographic variables and pre-university drinking, i.e. the associations are unlikely to be due to self-selection effects. Increasing alcohol outlet density, and particularly off-licences, may increase alcohol-related harm among university students.