Number of Obese, Smoking Americans Tops 9 Million

Blacks most at risk for this unhealthy combination, study finds

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By Ed Edelson
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, May 12, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Some nine million Americans suffer from the potentially deadly combination of smoking and obesity, a new analysis of federal data finds.

Poorer, black Americans make up a disproportionate number of smoking obese, the researchers said.

"One of the key findings is that those at the lower end of the social strata are burdened by these two very serious risk factors for disease and death," said Donna Vallone, vice president of research and evaluation at the American Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit group financed by the multibillion-dollar settlement paid out by the tobacco industry for hiding the truth about the dangers of smoking.

The foundation funded this latest research, which appears in the May 13 issue of the British Medical Journal.

"To our knowledge, there has never been a population estimate for the concurrence of smoking and obesity," Vallone noted.

The study used data from a 2002 U.S. national health study that interviewed nearly 30,000 adults. Nearly a quarter (23.5 percent) were obese, and 22.7 percent smoked. About 4.7 percent smoked and were also obese.

Men are more likely to be obese and smoke (5.3 percent) than women (4.2 percent), the researchers found.

And the combination of obesity and smoking climbed to 7 percent among blacks, the study found. The incidence for whites was 4.6 percent; for Hispanics, it was 4.2 percent.

Someone with a family income under $20,000 had roughly one chance in 15 of having the two risk factors, an incidence of 6.5 percent. For those with family incomes over $20,000, the incidence was 4.5 percent.

Research is needed into better methods to treat obese smokers, Vallone said.

"It is a medical-management issue," she said. "There is no evidence about how to effectively treat the obese smoker. This is a very fragile population that has the least resources to support this behavioral change."

Vallone said there should be more research on the issue, on the state, federal and local level. Most current programs to help smokers give up the habit do not encourage weight loss, even though many smokers gain a lot of weight when they stop, she noted.

Such research should be targeted carefully, said Jessie Gruman, president of the Center for the Advancement of Health, a nonprofit organization.

"From a public health perspective, this is a relatively small number of people who are at high risk," Gruman said. "I would rather see them have more access to existing therapies."

But more studies are needed to determine whether the principal method for helping smokers quit -- the use of nicotine patches -- works best. "Is this method of pharmacotherapy effective in this group of smokers?" Vallone said.

More information

The risks of obesity and smoking are compared by the RAND Corporation.

SOURCES: Donna Vallone, Ph.D., vice president, research and evaluation, American Legacy Foundation, Washington, D.C.; Jessie Gruman, Ph.D., president, Center for the Advancement of Health, Washington, D.C; May 13, 2006 British Medical Journal

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