Diet suffers when spouse is a smoker
SAN DIEGO, Apr 18 (Reuters Health) -- For the husbands and wives of those addicted to tobacco, good nutrition may be going up in smoke.
``We found that men and women who were married to smokers -- as compared to men and women married to nonsmokers -- consumed significantly more total fat and saturated fat,'' said researcher Dr. Jeffrey S. Hampl of Arizona State University in Tempe. He presented his team's findings at the Experimental Biology 2000 conference held here this week.
Numerous studies have found that nonsmokers who breathe in the secondhand smoke of a spouse or family member have an increased risk for cancer and heart disease. But Hampl's team sought to determine if living with a smoker was also associated with poor nutrition.
To do so, they examined 1994-1996 data on smoking and nutrition in nearly 500 married nonsmokers, collected in a nationwide database by researchers at the US Department of Agriculture.
Speaking with Reuters Health, Hampl reported that nonsmoking women married to smokers had higher levels of total dietary fat and saturated fat, as well as lower levels of fiber, vitamin A, and folate than women with nonsmoking partners.
The nonsmoking husbands of smoking women fared even worse. Besides having higher daily fat intakes than men married to nonsmoking women, these men ``consumed significantly more alcohol and cholesterol,'' Hampl said, ``and they ate significantly less fiber, calcium and vitamin A.''
Secondhand smoke and alcohol are a particularly ``deadly mixture,'' Hampl pointed out, greatly raising risks for both cancer and heart disease. And the availability of alcohol ``can undermine smoking cessation success,'' according to the team.
Why might life with a smoker have a greater impact on men than women? ``I think in part it's because women are usually the gatekeepers of health for the home,'' Hampl reasoned. ``And so if a man is married to a smoking woman, chances are greater that his diet is going to be much worse than a woman married to a smoking man.''
So what should the beleaguered, nonsmoking spouse do to help a loved one who smokes? The most important step is to talk to one's spouse about kicking the habit once and for all. ``Urge them to do so, to find ways to quit,'' Hampl said.
``Following that,'' he said, couples should work to improve their daily diet by ``cutting back on alcohol intake and eating more vegetables and fruits.'' He believes positive changes in diet will go a long way to help both partners fight cancer, heart disease, and a host of other illnesses.