Smokers have worse-quality diets than former smokers or non-smokers, according to a study published in the American journal BMC Public Health. A team of researchers, including Jacqueline Vernarelli from Fairfield University, Connecticut and R Ross MacLean from Yale University, evaluated data from 5,293 US adults.
The researchers found that smokers consumed around 200 more calories a day, despite eating significantly smaller portions of food, than non-smokers or former smokers.
“Smokers had diets that were high in energy density, meaning they consumed smaller amounts of food containing a greater number of calories. Non-smokers consumed more food which contained fewer calories,” the co-author Vernarelli said.
The team of scientists found that people who had never smoked consumed around 1.79 calories per gram (cal/g) of food, daily smokers consumed 2.02 cal/g, and non-smokers consumed 1.89 cal/g. They also found that former smokers consumed more calories per gram of food (1.84 cal/g) than those who had never smoked, but the former smokers’ dietary energy density was still significantly lower than that of current smokers.
The findings of the study suggest that any amount of cigarette consumption could be associated with poorer diet quality. The researchers also suggest that a diet low in energy density could help prevent weight gain after quitting smoking.
The calorie-dense diets consumed by the smokers whose data was used in this study often included less fruit and vegetables, which means their intake of vitamin C was likely to be lower. The authors suggest that this deficiency could potentially put smokers at further risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, presenting a major public health concern.
Vernarelli explained, “we know from the literature that concerns weight gain are barriers to quitting smoking, and we know that diets high in energy density are associated with higher body weight. Our results suggest that addressing the energy density in diets of current smokers may be a good target for interventions as part of a larger smoking cessation plan.”
In order to reach their findings, the researchers used data from 5,293 adults who took the US National Health and Examination Survey, a programme of studies designed to assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the US.
The dietary data used in the study was based on participants recalling what they ate in the past 24 hours. The main dietary energy density (cal/g) was calculated after adjusting for age, gender, race, educational attainment, socioeconomic status, beverage energy density, physical activity, and Body Mass Index (BMI).