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Smoking may be linked to hunger -- in family members

November 5, 2008 | 10:21 am


Smoking and hunger may not seem naturally connected, but perhaps that's because few people have given the issue much thought. With cigarettes around $4 per pack, perhaps we should.

Researchers from New York University School of Medicine have gotten the ball rolling. Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, they measured rates of so-called food insecurity and found that children and adults living with smokers appear more likely to suffer from the condition than do those living with nonsmokers.

Food insecurity was defined as "the inability to access enough food in a socially acceptable way for every day of the year." Here's what the researchers learned about it:

* 17% of children in households with smokers are food insecure, compared with 8.7% of those in households without smokers. The problem reached severe levels in 3.2% and 0.9% of the respective types of households.

* 25.7% of adults in households with smokers were insecure, compared with 11.6% of those in households without smokers. Rates of severe food insecurity were measured at 11.8% and 3.9%, respectively.

The question is "Why?" The researchers pointed out that families with at least one smoker spend 2% to 20% of their income on tobacco and that most smokers are poor or almost poor. As such, that 2% to 20% can have a big impact. 

But income level alone doesn't explain the connection. Smoking was a predictor of food insecurity even after adjusting for income level. In suggesting that behavioral or psychosocial factors may also play a role, the researchers noted, perhaps dryly:

"Smokers have different dietary attitudes and behaviors than those of nonsmokers, and this may extend to feeding practices of their children as well."

Of particular note is the fact that while gender didn't appear linked to food security among children, it did appear linked to severe food insecurity -- with boys more likely to suffer from the condition.

Further research is needed, as always. But, for now, the researchers say in their conclusion:

"The burden of food insecurity is a previously unrecognized danger of adult tobacco use to be added to the ever growing list of negative effects of adult tobacco use on children in the United States."

The research was published in the November issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo credit: Michael Reynolds / EPA