Does your smoking affect the dietary habits of your family?

Does your smoking affect the dietary habits of your family?

Australia has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity among high income nations, with latest data indicating that approximately one in four Australian children are overweight or obese

One preventable behavioural factor that can potentially be altered is parental smoking. In families where parents smoke, aside from the risks associated with passive smoke exposure, another significant way that smoking affects children's nutrition is through taste preferences, particularly when the mother is a smoker.

Cigarettes affect smokers’ taste preferences

Calorie intake is a crucial determinant of weight. Smokers’ taste sensitivity is potentially altered and suppressed by nicotine and other chemicals found in cigarettes, leading to a heightened preference for high energy and high fat foods. Studies show that smokers have higher intakes of saturated fat and significantly lower intakes of fruits and vegetables. Smokers are also more likely to choose white bread, sugar, meat, butter, whole milk and eggs and less likely to consume whole-wheat bread, high fibre breakfast cereals than non-smokers.

Children’s exposure to unhealthy foods

Family eating habits play an important role in instilling positive dietary behaviours in children. A strong negative correlation has been observed between maternal employment and days per week having family breakfast/dinner. Children of working mothers spend less time on grocery shopping or cooking or consume a greater share of meals and snacks from away-from-home sources.

In households where either the mother and/or father smoke, as parents engage in the selection of foods for families, the taste preference for these ‘high flavour’ foods leads to higher exposure to unhealthy foods for the children. These children, on average, eat higher number of serves of unhealthy food such as chips, snacks, and soft drinks, and lower serves of healthy food such as fruits, cooked vegetables, and water. 


A shift in the parents’ lifestyle can influence the lives of their children

Obesity can have negative emotional and social impacts on children, such as low self-esteem and increased rates of being bullied and socially excluded with further adverse consequences on academic performance and long-term employment opportunities. An alteration in parents’ behaviour is likely to make a significant impact on their children’s lives. This underscores the necessity for implementing tobacco control measures and specific interventions designed to assist parents in quitting smoking or reducing tobacco use. It also calls for strategies promoting healthy family behaviours including dietary choices and physical activity, all of which can be beneficial for child health and obesity prevention.

The related academic paper is published in the BMC Public Health and is available here.

Full citation: Srivastava, P., Trinh, TA., Hallam, K.T., Karimi, L & B. Hollingsworth. The links between parental smoking and childhood obesity: data of the longitudinal study of Australian children. BMC Public Health 24, 68 (2024).




Preety Srivastava is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Economics, Finance and Marketing, RMIT University, Australia. Her research focuses on applied econometrics with applications in areas such as recreational drug consumption and health. Her research has been published in journals such the Journal of Health Economics, Health Economics, and the Journal of Royal Statistical Society (A).

25 January 2024


25 January 2024


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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.