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An exploration of student perceptions and practices by ethnicity regarding alcohol-free Late-Night entertainment.

Abstract: Penn State's alcohol-free LateNight entertainment program was chosen by the U. S. Department of Education as a model prevention program. One purpose of the 1999 program evaluation was to assess ethnic minority and non-minority participants' (a) participation, (b) belief that participating results in less drinking for oneself and others, and (c) perceived social identity. Results showed that ethnic minority respondents were significantly (p < .05) more inclined to participate than non-minority respondents. No significant differences were noted, however, regarding perceptions that participation results in less alcohol use for self (p < .69) or others (p < .59). Non-minority respondents also did not differ significantly (p < .62) in social identity from minority respondents. Social and cultural considerations for prevention programming are discussed.


While many institutions of higher education increasingly rely on environmental management, or environmental prevention, approaches to improve the fives of students and community members, high-risk drinking and subsequent problems remain a serious threat to the health and human development of college students (Engs, Hanson, & Diebold, 1996; Migneault, Velicer, Prochaska, & Stevenson, 1999; Page, Scanlan, & Gilbert, 1999; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1997; Wechsler, Davenport, Dowdall, Moeykens, & Costillo, 1994; Wechsler, et al., 1994; Wechsler, Dowdall, Maenner, Glendhill-Hoy, & Lee, 1998; Wechsler, Dowdall, Davenport, & DeJong, 1999). A guiding principle of Healthy People 2010, the health promotion and disease prevention agenda for Americans, is to improve the health of individuals, families, and community members using systematic, comprehensive, organizational, and policy approaches (U. S. Department of Health and Human Services [USDHHS], 2000). Environmental prevention is one example of efforts by institutions of higher education to embrace this national goal. The LateNight Penn State alcohol-free alternative activity program, which is the basis of this research, coincides with the organizational approach for reducing alcohol abuse and related problems among its University students.

The patterns for high-risk drinking, or "binge drinking," among college students are defined by national alcohol abuse prevention experts as drinking four or five or more alcoholic beverages in one sitting within the past two weeks (Wechsler & Isaac, 1992; Wechsler, Davenport, Dowdall, Moeykens, & Castillo, 1994; Wechsler, Dowdall, Davenport, & DeJong, 1999). Consequently, many institutions of higher education weigh the social economy of instituting environmental prevention strategies, such as providing alcohol-free options, to offset their students' high-risk drinking practices. As noted by DeJong, et al. (1998), school policymakers cannot expect students to say "no" to alcohol misuse if the environment says "yes." It is expected that alcohol-free entertainment will curb the appeal to say "yes" to binge-drinking behaviors because enjoyable alcohol-free activities could positively alter the normative beliefs about what constitutes "fun" within the college student environment. The value of college-based alcohol-free options to individuals, communities, and societies is great (DeJong, 1997), especially with regard to opportunities for participation in positive social interactions outside the context of alcohol. Zimmerman (1997) supports environmental prevention strategies, stating, "student behavior is influenced by policy decisions affecting the availability of alcohol and other drugs on- and off-campus, the level of enforcement of regulations and laws, and the availability and attractiveness of alcohol-free social and recreational opportunities" (p. 1).

The purpose of the study was to assess the alcohol-related perceptions and practices of students who attend the LateNight entertainment program. A brief review of literature describing the drinking prevalence and patterns of both ethnic minority and non-minority adults, including college students, is shown below.

The drinking patterns among adult Americans have been documented by federal health agencies to vary based on race or ethnicity. In 1997, the USDHHS reported that within the general population of adults age 18 and older, Whites (65.9%) and Hispanics (66.9%) were more likely to be current drinkers, while fewer African Americans (61.6%) reported current drinking. Among respondents reporting weekly drinking, again, the prevalence of alcohol use among Whites (30.2%) and Hispanics (26.5%) was higher than African Americans (25.8%). The Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (1999) "Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System" survey also revealed alcohol-use patterns that were fairly consistent with the USDHHS estimates shown above. For example, for those who reported drinking at least once within the past month, a greater proportion were Whites (56.3%) and Hispanics (49.7%), while African Americans reported the lowest (44.7%) alcohol use. When asked about high-risk drinking (i.e., defined by the CDC as consuming five or more drinks on any one occasion during the past month), however, the racial differences (1999) varied somewhat. For example, Hispanics (7.1%) and Other racial groups (7.2%) reported a higher prevalence of high-risk drinking than did Whites (6.7%). Regardless, the CDC found that African Americans (4.9%) reported the lowest prevalence of high-risk drinking overall.

Consistent with the USDHHS (1997) reports of alcohol use in the general population, nationwide survey results of Wechsler, Lee, Kuo, & Lee (2000) showed that the prevalence of binge drinking among African American college students was lowest (15.5%), followed by Asians (23.1%), and was highest among Non-Hispanic (44.5%) and Whites (49.2%). In this study, Hispanics showed a more moderate level of binge drinking (39.5%), although other researchers have contradicted this finding. For example, White college students historically were reported to be twice as likely to drink heavily when compared to ethnic minority groups (Wechsler, Dowdall, Davenport, & DeJong, 1999); as the proportion of ethnic minorities in the population has increased, so has their consumption level (USDHHS, 1997).

Other nationwide reports of college student drinking show that while Asians report a low prevalence of binge drinking, African American college students consistently report the lowest prevalence of hinge drinking (Caetano, 1997). Again, Wechsler, et al. (2000) nationwide survey results showed that African Americans were least likely to report frequent binge drinking (6.5%), followed by Asians (8.4%), while Whites (26.3%) and Non-Hispanics (23.2%) were most likely to report frequent binge drinking, especially among men. Additionally, Hispanics have been shown to be less likely to demonstrate the typical "maturing out effect," whereby declines in drinking are expected to occur from age 20 through the late 40s (Neff & Dassori, 1998).

Regardless of ethnic differences, the National Institutes for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism's (NIAAA) (2002) recent publication concerning high-risk drinking among college students recommends that prevention specialists address the following physical, social, and emotional harms. The harms, which have been documented to be related to high-risk drinking, include: injury, assault, sexual abuse, unsafe sexual practices, academic problems, health problems and suicide attempts, drunk driving, vandalism, property damage, police involvement, and alcohol abuse and dependence are the result of high-risk drinking (NIAAA, 2002).

The basis of this research was to assess college students' use of the alcohol-free alternative activity program, LateNight Penn State, chosen as a model alcohol prevention program by the U. S. Department of Education in 1999. The purpose of this research was to investigate whether ethnic minority and non-minority students differ with regard to participation in LateNight, beliefs about personal and peer alcohol use, the belief that it is possible to have fun without using alcohol, and perceptions of social identity.

Maney and colleagues (2002a) and Maney, et al. (2002b) recently published a description of the LateNight program design, implementation, and evaluation results, which has been documented elsewhere. To help the reader conceptualize LateNight programming, however, a brief overview of the program's features is described as follows. In general, LateNight serves to engage students in alcohol-free endeavors during the weekend prime social hours of 9 PM through 2 AM by providing a variety of quality entertainment within a state-of-the-art student union building. Contrary to the typical "bar scene," LateNight serves to enhance social and cultural interaction in lower-risk settings, especially targeting those under the minimum legal drinking age. As described by Maney, et al. (2002a), LateNight entertainment is available at no additional charge throughout the regular academic year and summer sessions, and offers the following range of entertainment programs: currently released movies, dancing (e.g., ballroom, swing, and salsa), musical performances, comedy performances, coffee house, traditional board games and video game tournaments, arts and crafts, magical performance, and interactive entertainment. Additional information regarding the LateNight program and evaluation results can be viewed at


The purpose of this research was to explore differences between ethnic minority and non-minority participants of LateNight programming using two perspectives: (1) participation rates in LateNight, and (2) perceptions of LateNight with regard to personal alcohol use, others' alcohol use, social identity, and the belief that participation is a fun alternative to drinking.

During the last weeks of the 1999 Fall Semester, attendees of LateNight programming were invited to report their alcohol-related beliefs and behaviors regarding LateNight. Trained program staff administered and collected the 415 questionnaires using standardized procedures. Program staff conveyed to the authors that virtually all those who were asked to complete the questionnaires agreed to do so, suggesting that these respondents represented LateNight participants in general. In addition, trained program staff also ensured that potential respondents did not complete the assessment more than once. The following specific features were assessed: (a) level of participation, (b) perceptions of LateNight programming in terms of alcohol use among themselves and of others, (c) social identity (i.e., "LateNight participants are like me"), and (d) whether participating in LateNight represents the ability to have fun without using alcohol. The LateNight participation item contained response options ranging from zero times to nine or more times since the previous semester, while five-point Likert-type scales were used to measure agreement with the remaining four attitudinal statements. Because these were single-item behavioral and attitudinal measures, it was not possible to calculate reliability estimates. It is important to note, however, that Maney, et al. (2002b) and Moore (2000) employed these same measures successfully among larger populations, including a randomly selected telephone survey of University students. Data were analyzed using the following statistical procedures: (a) descriptive statistics, (b) test of proportions, (c) cross-tabular analysis, and (d) one-sample t tests.


A brief discussion of the demographic composition of the sample is shown in Table 1. Of those who participated in the survey, slightly over one-third (38.6%) were men, and two-thirds were women (61.4%). More respondents were age 20 or under (60.2%) than were 21 years or older (39.8%). Two-thirds of the responding participants were non-minority ethnicity, or White (67.0%). The remaining one-third of respondents represented the ethnic minority categories as follows: African American (12.7%), Asian (9.8%), Other (5.5%), American Indian / Native American (3.3%), and Latino (2.2%). Almost two-thirds of responding participants lived on campus (68.0%), while one-third lived off campus (32.0%). One-third (33.3%) of respondents were freshmen, while approximately one-fifth each were sophomore (19.7%), junior (20.9%), and senior (20.4%) status.

Given the relatively low proportion of respondents who correctly coded racial status, and for purposes of cross tabular analysis, the categories of African American, Pacific Islander, Other, American Indian / Native American, and Latino were combined into a single group, which was relabeled "ethnic minority." The "other" categories included 14 respondents who did not identify with one of four ethnic minority options offered on the questionnaire, and were not included in further analyses.

To determine whether LateNight program participants adequately reflected the entire university population at the time of data collection, the researchers conducted a test of proportions to differentiate those attending the main campus at University Park during the 1999 Fall Semester, and those who completed questionnaires. As shown in Table 2, the proportion of ethnic minorities who participated in LateNight was higher than would be expected given their presence in the entire population (t = 5.73, p < .05) and (t = -5.04, p < .05). Given that LateNight is a consistently offered and free alternative activity program, the researchers were led to consider the following research questions. First, does a higher ratio of ethnic minority students attend LateNight than non-minority students? Second, do ethnic minority students differ with non-minority students in regard to their alcohol-related beliefs toward LateNight programming?

As noted above, of the 415 respondents, a total of 276 correctly coded racial status. Therefore, the researchers found that it was necessary to conduct a test of proportion among these 276 to determine whether significant differences between those responding to this item and their proportion in the University Park campus were present. Next, the researchers analyzed the variables described above with regard to being non-ethnic minority status or of ethnic minority status. As shown in Table 3, only one significant difference emerged with regard to ethnic minority status. A higher proportion of ethnic minority respondents were over age 21 (47.2%) than were non-minority (31.5%) respondents. No significant differences were found, however, as related to gender (p < .32) or place of residence (p < .09) based on ethnicity. Based on these results, the proportion of missing cases was not considered to have posed a significant methodological problem.


These respondents most frequently attended between one and three LateNight activities (40.9%) since the previous semester. In addition, approximately one fourth (27.4%) of these respondents said they attended between four and six, or seven or more (22.4%) programs since the previous semester. With regard to participation in LateNight events (i.e., zero, 1-3, 4-6, or seven or more of programs during the past semester), a test of proportions showed that ethnic minority respondents were significantly more likely to have attended seven or more LateNight programs than were non-minority respondents (t = - 2.33, p < .05) (See Table 4).


As shown in Table 5, very few differences regarding the beliefs and behaviors toward LateNight entertainment were found among these respondents. For example, non-minority respondents were equally likely to believe that LateNight participation results in less drinking for all students (71.3%), as were ethnic minority respondents (63.5%) ([X.sup.2] = 1.21, df = 2, n = 261, p < .53). Furthermore, when asked whether attending alcohol-free programming results in less personal alcohol consumption, no significant differences based on ethnicity emerged. For example, a total of 56.3% of non-minority respondents believed LateNight results in less drinking for themselves, and the same percentage (57.0?%) of ethnic minority respondents believed this. Likewise, ethnic minority respondents were equally likely to say that LateNight was a fun alternative to alcohol use (41.4%) as were non-minority respondents (33.9%) ([X.sup.2] = 2.95, df = 4, n = 261, p < .57). Finally, ethnic minority respondents were equally likely to report holding similar social identity (i.e., the belief that LateNight participants are "like me") as were non-minority respondents ([X.sup.2] = 2.66, df = 4, n = 261, p < .62).


Prior to a discussion of these research findings, it is important to consider the limitations of the study. First, the sample was one of convenience, thereby limiting the generalizability of the research results to this sample only. It is important for the reader to consider, however, that alcohol-free alternative activity programs, such as LateNight Penn State, are relatively new forms of environmental prevention being used by institutions of higher education, and therefore this preliminary work is intended to identify areas of potential inquiry for additional investigations of primary prevention programs targeting high-risk alcohol use. Second, the number of missing cases with regard to ethnicity is a key limitation of this study. To counter this constraint, however, the researchers employed a test of proportions to determine whether respondents' ethnicity was significantly different when compared to the general population of University students. The researchers discovered no significant differences based on ethnicity in terms of residence or gender, although there were significantly more ethnic minority respondents age 21 and older who participated.

The most striking finding was that ethnic-minority respondents were more likely to attend LateNight more frequently than non-ethnic minority respondents. This finding is revealing in several ways. Primarily, it is possible that ethnic minority students' choice to attend LateNight reflects entertainment preferences, which may be embedded in cultural values. For example, the LateNight programs such as dance (especially Hip Hop, ballroom, and Salsa) as well as Coffee House may be more fulfilling to cultural appreciation of music, movement competence, and autonomous self-expression. Second, researchers in the motivation profession acknowledge that humans seek out opportunities to fulfill the three basic psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. The Coffee House and dance programs may be more effective than other types of entertainment toward fulfilling these three basic needs (Deci & Ryan, 1980). In fact, the smaller environment of LateNight programming may enhance perceived social interactions leading to feelings of greater social competence.

Goals for academic achievement may offer a second explanation for the finding that ethnic minority respondents were more likely to attend LateNight. It could be argued that these respondents hold cultural values where academic achievement is considered beneficial to life success; avoiding or moderating alcohol consumption may be perceived as a method to enhance academic performance. Three national research reports could be used to corroborate the contention that heavy alcohol use is related to academic problems, including missing class, falling behind on studies, performing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall (Engs, Hanson & Diebold, 1996; Wechsler, Lee, Kuo, & Lee, 2000; Wechsler, Lee, Kuo, Seibring, & Lee, 2002).

An alternative explanation for ethnic minority respondents more frequently attending LateNight programming than non-ethnic minority respondents may be rooted in personal safety consciousness. For instance, in a community that is largely populated by non-ethnic minorities (i.e., Caucasians) and one that includes heavy alcohol use as a source of recreation (Maney, et al., 2002a; Maney, et al., 2002b), it is possible that these ethnic minority respondents would attend LateNight to minimize or avoid social interactions that could result in fighting or violence. This is especially noteworthy given that NIAAA (2002) has documented that students between the ages of 18-24 who have been drinking at high risk have been involved in the assault of more than 600,000 students yearly. Likewise, Wechsler, Lee, Kuo, Seibring, & Lee (2002) have reported that approximately 11% of college students reported they have damaged property while under the influence.

Finally; the finding that ethnic minority respondents were equally likely to socially identify with all participants of LateNight may reflect the high rate of attendance among ethnic minorities in LateNight overall. Since the LateNight setting is smaller, it may be more socially inviting to ethnic minority respondents than it is to non-minority respondents. LateNight programming can be a valuable mechanism to promote social competence, a concept characterized by Hansen (1997) as a setting for unstructured discussion among friends and acquaintances whereby it is possible to explore attitudes about social issues and convey information about normative behavior. Wechsler, Austin, and DeJong (1996), Zimmerman (1997), Perkins (1997), and Hansen (1997) concur that it is viral to improve opportunities for healthful social interactions on college campuses. These authors contend that it is vital to keep abreast of changes in students' popular culture and interests in recreation and entertainment. Recommendations for future research are described below. Fundamentally, it is imperative to replicate this study using a randomly selected sample of University students. Also, the questionnaire should be modified to include items measuring religious background and goals for academic achievement. Another recommendation for future research would be to employ a qualitative exploration of the reasons for attending LateNight programming, and satisfaction with program offerings. This type of research would enable administrators, faculty, and staff to better understand the motivations, needs, and interests of students as they socialize and seek entertainment experiences. Finally, both regional and national surveys of alcohol-free alternative activities offered by institutions of higher education is suggested.


The authors wish to acknowledge that the research was funded by the U.S. Department of Education Safe and Drug Free Schools Program, as administered by the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, under the grant competition entitled "Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Models on College Campuses," PR-Award P116X990016. Dolores W. Maney, Ph.D., served as project director and Linda Caldwell, Ph.D. as co-investigator. Special thanks are given to John Harlow, B.S., for the design and implementation of the LateNight program; to Dorothy Ann Higham, M.A.Ed., and Elena Theodorou, M.S. for assistance with data collection; and Beverly Mahoney, R.N., Ph.D., CHES for review of this manuscript.
Table 1. Demographic Characteristics of the On-Site Survey

 Demographics Variables Percent Number

 Male 38.6% (158)
 Female 61.4% (251)
 Total 100.0% (409) (1)
 Under 20 60.2% (244)
 21 and older 39.8% (161)
 Total 100.0% (405) (2)
 African American/Black 12.7% (35)
 American Indian/ Native American 3.3% (9)
 Caucasian 67.0% (185)
 Latino 2.2% (6)
 Pacific Islander 9.8% (27)
 Other 5.1% (14)
 Total 100.0% (276) (3)
 Off Campus 32.4% (133)
 On Campus 67.6% (278)
 Total 100.0% (411) (4)
Semester Standing
 1-2 33.3% (135)
 3-4 19.7% (80)
 5-6 20.9% (85)
 7 and up 20.4% (83)
 Other 5.7% (23)
 Total 100.0% (406) (5)
Participation in LateNight, since Fall 1999
 0 8.4% (35)
 1-3 41.7% (162)
 4-6 24.7% (96)
 72 4.5% (95)
 Total 100.0% (388) (6)

(1) = A total of 6 respondents failed to answer the gender item
as instructed

(2) = A total of 10 respondents failed to answer the age item
as instructed

(3) = A total of 139 respondents failed to answer the ethnicity
item as instructed

(4) = A total of 4 respondents failed to answer the residential
location item as instructed

(5) = A total of 9 respondents failed to answer the semester
standing item as instructed

(6) = A total of 27 respondents failed to answer the participation
item as instructed

Table 2. Race by Total Enrollment.

 LateNight Total Undergraduate
 Participants Enrollment t p

 Racial Status Number Percent Number Percent

Ethnic Minority 77 27.9% 7,322 12.4% 5.73 ns
Non-Minority 185 67.0% 31,444 81.3% -5.04 .05
Other 14 5.1% 2,439 6.3% -0.90 ns
Total 276 100.0% 38,658 100.0%

[P.sub.1] = On-Site Survey 1999, LateNight Participants

[P.sub.2] = Total Undergraduate Enrollment, University Park 1999

Table 3. Demographic Differences between Ethnic-Minority and
Non-Minority LateNight Respondents.

 Variable Ethnic Minority Non-Minority

 (n) % (n) %

 Women (59) 66.3% (110) 60.1%
 Men (30) 33.7% (73) 39.9%
 Total (89) 100.0% (185) 100.0%
Chi Square Value

 Under 21 (47) 52.8% (124) 68.5%
 21 or Older (42) 47.2% (57) 31.5%
 Total (89) 100.0% (181) 100.0%
Chi Square Value

 Off-Campus (34) 37.8% (51) 27.7%
 On-Campus (56) 62.2% (133) 72.3%
 Total (91) 100.0% (185) 100.0%
Chi Square

 Variable [chi df n p

Chi Square Value .97 1 272 .32

 Under 21
 21 or Older
Chi Square Value 6.33 1 270 .05

Chi Square 2.86 1 274 .09

Table 4. Test of Proportion: Participation Based on Ethnicity.

Participation Level In
Programming (a) Ethnic Minority Non-Minority t p

 (n) % (n) %

None (8) 9.3% (16) 9.2% -0.03 NS
Low (29) 33.7 (77) 44.5% 1.70 NS
Medium (22) 25.6% (49) 23.8% 0.46 NS
High (27) 31.4% (31) 17.9% -2.33 .05
Total (86) 100.0% (173) 100.0%

(a) = Participation levels of LateNight respondents

None = 0 times in the previous semester: 9.3% (n = 24)

Low = 1-3 times in the previous semester: 40.9% (n= 106)

Medium = 4-6 times in the previous semester: 27.4% (n = 71)

High = 3 7 times in the previous semester: 22.4% (n = 58)

Table 5. Ethnic Minority and Non-Minority Respondents' Perceptions
of LateNight Programming.

 Variable Ethnic Minority Non-Minority

 (n) % (n) %

Participating in LN Results
in Less Drinking for All Students
 No (10) 11.5% (20) 11.5%
 Yes (57) 65.5% (124) 71.3%
 Don't Know (20) 23.0% (30) 17.2%
 Total (87) 100.0% (174) 100.0%
Chi Square Value

Participating in LN Results in
Less Drinking for Me
 No (11) 12.8% (17) 9.8%
 Yes (49) 57.0% (98) 56.3%
 Don't Know (5) 5.8% (7) 4.0%
 Don't Drink Alcohol (21) 24.4% (52) 29.9%
 Total (86) 100.0% (174) 100.0%
Chi Square Value

LN is Good Example of Having
Fun without Using Alcohol
 Strongly Disagree (2) 2.3% (2) 1.1%
 Disagree (3) 3.4% (4) 2.3%
 Neither Agree nor Disagree (9) 10.3% (17) 9.8%
 Agree (37) 42.5% (92) 52.9%
 Strongly Agree (36) 41.4% (59) 33.9%
 Total (87) 100.0% (174) 100.0%
Chi Square

Identifies Socially with
LN Attendees
 Strongly Disagree (1) 1.1% (5) 2.9%
 Disagree (11) 12.6% (15) 8.6%
 Neither Agree nor Disagree (36) 41.4% (77) 44.3%
 Agree (32) 36.8% (68) 39.1%
 Strongly Agree (7) 8.0% (9) 5.2%
 Total (87) 100.0% (174) 100.0%
Chi Square Value

 Variable [chi square] df n p

Participating in LN Results
in Less Drinking for All Students
 Don't Know
Chi Square Value 1.27 2 261 .59

Participating in LN Results in
Less Drinking for Me
 Don't Know
 Don't Drink Alcohol
Chi Square Value 1.50 3 260 .69

LN is Good Example of Having
Fun without Using Alcohol
 Strongly Disagree
 Neither Agree nor Disagree
 Strongly Agree
Chi Square 2.95 4 261 .57

Identifies Socially with
LN Attendees
 Strongly Disagree
 Neither Agree nor Disagree
 Strongly Agree
Chi Square Value 2.66 4 261 .62

LN = LateNight programming


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Responsibility I--Assessing Individual and Community Needs for Health Education

Competency B--Distinguish between behaviors that foster and those that hinder well-being.

Sub-competency 1--Investigate physical, social, emotional, and intellectual factors influencing health behavior.

Dolores W. Maney, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Health Education in the College of Health and Human Development in the Department of Kinesiology at Penn State University, University Park. Jean-Pierre Laurenceau-Medina, M.Ed., Sharon Mortensen, M.S., Joseph J. Vasey, Ph.D. Betty Moore, D.Ed., and Sarah C. Gates, B.A. are all affiliated with The Pennsylvania State University. Address all correspondence to Dolores W. Maney, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Health Education, College of Health and Human Development, Department of Kinesiology, 271-B Recreation Building, Penn State University, University Park, PA 16802, PHONE: 814.865.1364, FAX: 814.865.1275, EMAIL:
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Author:Gates, Sarah C.
Publication:American Journal of Health Studies
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2003
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