Tobacco use and obesity more common among less educated and lowest income Americans

As America observed World No Tobacco Day today, the American Legacy Foundation released a new analysis showing America's most disadvantaged populations are carrying the burden of two major public health epidemics -- smoking and obesity.

This research, released on the heels of the Surgeon General's Report on the Health Consequences of Smoking last week, is a stark reminder that tobacco remains a public health threat, especially to those with the fewest resources. Tobacco-related disease is the number-one preventable cause of death in the United States, killing 440,000 Americans each year and afflicting thousands of others with heart disease, cancer, emphysema, stroke and other tobacco-related diseases.

For the American Legacy Foundation analysis, data was taken from the National Center for Health Statistics, 2002 National Health Interview Survey -- collected from American men and women aged 18 and older.

The statistics show that smoking and obesity prevalence rates are both connected to income levels and education. However, there is very little overlap among smokers and those who are obese. "Smoking and obesity are both very important public health concerns for our country," American Legacy Foundation President and CEO Cheryl Healton, Dr.PH. said. "Obesity is a growing concern, but tobacco remains the deadliest and costliest health threat to our country. It is important that we identify resources to help individuals overcome difficulties with each of these epidemics."

Of those individuals below the poverty level, 34 percent smoke, 27 percent are obese, and 8 percent are obese and smoke. In comparison, among those earning four times more than the poverty level, only 18 percent smoke, 21 percent are obese, and 4 percent are obese and smoke. This new data also illustrates that individuals with lower levels of education have higher rates of tobacco use and obesity.

Specifically, data show that people with high school general equivalency diplomas, or GEDs, are nearly four times more likely to use tobacco and much more likely to be obese than people with a college degree. The data presented today demonstrates the dire need for resources -- from quit smoking clinics, to consumer call lines, to effective educational campaigns -- to be made available for anyone who wants to quit smoking.

The foundation advises individuals who want to quit to make a plan, identify their triggers, use pharmacotherapy products, and seek social support from their friends and family. "It is clear that there is a direct correlation between income levels and these two health epidemics," Healton said. "Both of these issues are also costing Americans billions of dollars each year in Medicare and Medicaid. It is a vicious cycle; those with the fewest resources are the most affected by these problems." The American Legacy Foundation is dedicated to building a world where young people reject tobacco and anyone can quit.

Located in Washington, DC, the foundation develops programs that address the health effects of tobacco use through grants, technical assistance and training, youth activism, strategic partnerships, counter-marketing and grass roots marketing campaigns, public relations and outreach to populations disproportionately affected by the toll of tobacco. The foundation's national programs include Circle of Friends(TM), Great Start, a Priority Populations Initiative, Streetheory and truth(R). The foundation was created as a result of the November 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) reached between attorneys general from 46 states and the tobacco industry. Visit http://www.americanlegacy.org .

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