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Psychological distress and cigarette smoking among U.S. households by income: Considering the role of food insecurity

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Psychological distress and tobacco use are known to co-occur for many reasons, including vulnerabilities associated with socioeconomic disadvantage. Food insecurity-a stressful condition due to inconsistent food access-is linked with increased psychological distress and is also an independent risk factor for smoking. We investigated the association between psychological distress and cigarette smoking, examining distress occurring with or without food insecurity, and variations in the associations by socioeconomic status. We analyzed data from the 2015 U.S. Panel Study of Income Dynamics (n = 9048). A four-category variable was constructed based on responses to validated measures of psychological distress and of food insecurity: no distress and no food insecurity; food insecurity without distress; distress without food insecurity; and distress with food insecurity. Weighted, robust Poisson regression analysis examined associations with current smoking, with analyses stratified by socioeconomic status. Smoking prevalence was highest among respondents experiencing psychological distress with food insecurity (39%). Results showed that respondents with food insecurity alone had higher smoking prevalence (33%) than respondents with psychological distress alone (20%). Only among respondents above poverty, psychological distress without food insecurity was significantly associated with current smoking (prevalence ratio = 1.44; 95% CI [1.25, 1.65]). For respondents at/below poverty, psychological distress without food insecurity was not significantly associated with current smoking. Further examining how socioeconomic stressors, such as food insecurity, intersect with psychological distress is needed to address continued socioeconomic disparities in cigarette smoking and develop effective population-based interventions.

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