Expert Commentary

Tobacco use links with child malnutrition in developing countries

2009 Tufts University study on the relationship between household tobacco use and child nutrition in the developing world.

The fact that smoking has direct negative effects on health is well documented.  Smoking could also adversely impact the health of others in a family through substitution effects within a household’s expenditures.

The hypothesis that households with at least one smoker would allocate some funds toward cigarettes rather than food was tested by Tufts University researchers in a 2009 paper, “Up in Smoke:  Tobacco Use, Expenditure on Food and Child Malnutrition in Developing Countries.” By focusing on health outcomes of children under 5 years old, they found that smoking has adverse impact on child nutrition through diverting household resources.

The paper’s key findings are:

  • 70% of the expenditures on tobacco products are financed by a reduction in food expenditure.
  • Among pre-school children, the average height-for-age in households of smokers is 0.013 standard deviation lower than those in nonsmoking households.
  • As cigarette expenditures increase, households can substitute toward lower-quality calories to mitigate the decline in nutrition.
  • A higher level of parental education increases both the quantity and quality of the household diet and reduces the probability of the father smoking.

The authors conclude by positing future research direction on other determinants of expenditures on smoking and their effects on child nutrition.

Tags: children, food, medicine, nutrition, tobacco

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