Principal investigator Cheryl L. Perry, Ph.D., co-principal investigator Carolyn L. Williams, Ph.D., and colleagues at the University of Minnesota report in the July 18 American Journal of Public Health initial findings from Project Northland, a 3-year test in 24 Minnesota school districts of combined classroom and community interventions to prevent alcohol use by young adolescents. The researchers found that Project Northland reduced the onset of alcohol use by 28 percent in the intervention communities relative to control communities and that prevalence of drinking in the prior month was 19 percent lower in the intervention communities. The findings lead the authors to conclude that "multilevel, targeted prevention programs for young adolescents are effective."
The Project Northland results provide urgently needed knowledge to inform communities and institutions that undertake prevention programs, according to National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism director Enoch Gordis, M.D. "While communities and institutions across the nation are tackling youth alcohol use and abuse, few such undertakings are informed by theory and tested according to advanced methodologies. Given limited resources, it is essential to know what works and why."
Project Northland was designed specifically to be scientifically tested, according to Jan Howard, Ph.D., who oversees NIAAA's Prevention Research Branch. "The presence of control communities, random assignment to control or intervention group, multilevel outcome measurement and adequate followup are all hallmarks of true experimental research. They set Project Northland apart from many other studies that rely on the evaluation of ongoing prevention programs without rigorous scientific design."
Project Northland is unique among primary prevention programs for young people because it simultaneously and consistently implements multiple levels of preventive interventions. Each participating community within the project offers students school-based skills training and alcohol-free extracurricular activities. Programs to engage and educate parents and the community also are important components of the project. The interventions link students with parents, parents with schools, students with school activities, and students and parents with the larger community.
The 3-year interventions are offered to sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students. The researchers report that participation in the project was high within all three grades, even among young people at greatest risk for alcohol use. Approximately 90 percent of parents also became involved in the program's alcohol education activities.
Results from the study showed that the interventions successfully reduced adolescent alcohol use, the tendency to use alcohol, and the combination of cigarette and alcohol use among students who had not yet used alcohol at the beginning of the sixth grade. The program also appears to have reduced peer pressure to use alcohol and introduced skills to help resist peer influences. In addition, Project Northland helped to improve communications between parents and children about the consequences of drinking.
According to Dr. Perry, " Project Northland provides strong support for the effectiveness of primary prevention programs that fully involve young adolescents, parents, peers, and community members." The ongoing project now is exploring ways to extend these effects into the high-risk high school years, for which few scientifically tested intervention programs exist.
A component of the National Institutes of Health, NIAAA is supporting the 9-year project (now in its sixth year) through research grants to the University of Minnesota. As the lead Federal institute for alcohol research, NIAAA is one of 17 Institutes that comprise the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Perry can be reached for interviews and to order program curricula* at (telephone) 612/624-4188 or (facsimile) 612/624-0315. "Outcomes of a Community-Wide Alcohol Use Prevention Program during Early Adolescence: Project Northland," B-roll, and background materials available from NIAAA.
*Program curricula available October 1996