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Health behavior and college students: Does Greek affiliation matter?

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Abstract

The college years offer an opportunity for new experiences, personal freedom, and identity development; however, this period is also noted for the emergence of risky health behaviors that place college students at risk for health problems. Affiliation with on-campus organizations such as fraternities or sororities may increase a students’ risk given the rituals and socially endorsed behaviors associated with Greek organizations. In this study, we examined alcohol and drug use, smoking, sexual behavior, eating, physical activity, and sleeping in 1,595 college students (n = 265 Greek members, n = 1,330 non-Greek members). Results show Greek members engaged in more risky health behaviors (e.g., alcohol use, cigarette smoking, sexual partners, and sex under the influence of alcohol or drugs) than non-Greek members. Greek and non-Greek members did not differ in condom use, unprotected sex, eating, and physical activity behaviors. Implications for prevention and intervention strategies among Greek members are discussed.

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Notes

  1. Effect sizes cannot be computed for chi-square tests when degrees of freedom are greater than 1 (Lipsey and Wilson 2001). Therefore, effects sizes were not computed for cigarette smoking frequency, eating behaviors, and vigorous physical exercise.

  2. We also examined gender differences among Greek and non-Greek members using a 2 (gender: men, women) × 2 (Greek membership: Greek, non-Greek) analysis of variance (ANOVA) for all continuous dependent variables (e.g., alcohol use, sexual frequency), and logistic or ordinal regression procedures for dichotomous (e.g., drug use) or ordinal categorical (e.g., frequency of cigarette smoking) dependent variables, respectively. Results showed a significant interaction between Greek status and gender for the number of drinks in a typical drinking day, number of cigarettes smoked per day, and always using any form of birth control in the past 3 months. For alcohol use, Greek (M = 7.52, SD = 4.05) and non-Greek (M = 5.83, SD = 3.85) men consumed more drinks in a typical drinking day than Greek (M = 4.37, SD = 2.44) and non-Greek women (M = 3.96, SD = 3.86), F (1, 1449) = 5.77, P = .02. Of the participants who smoked cigarettes, Greek men (M = 6.61, SD = 6.40) and non-Greek women (M = 4.75, SD = 5.97) report smoking more cigarettes per day than non-Greek men (M = 4.54, SD = 4.71) and Greek women (M = 3.92, SD = 2.49), F (1, 350) = 4.33, P = .04. Finally, Greek women (69%) and non-Greek men (50%) report always using birth control more than non-Greek women (57%) or Greek men (41%), OR = 2.24 (95% CI = 1.17, 4.27), SE = 0.33, P = .02. No other interactions were found for the remaining 26 dependent variables. To simplify the reporting of results, we focus on contrasts between Greek and non-Greek members rather than report the main effects and interactions of the analyses for the 29 health behaviors (all of the main effects were consistent with our t-test and chi-square analyses).

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by a grant to Kate B. Carey (R01-AA012418) from the National Institutes of Health. We thank the SURE Project team for help with data collection and entry.

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Correspondence to Lori A. J. Scott-Sheldon.

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Scott-Sheldon, L.A.J., Carey, K.B. & Carey, M.P. Health behavior and college students: Does Greek affiliation matter?. J Behav Med 31, 61–70 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-007-9136-1

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