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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Smoking, drinking and body weight after re-employment: does unemployment experience and compensation make a difference?

Kelly L Bolton12 and Eunice Rodriguez3*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, USA

2 Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

3 Department of Pediatrics and Center for Education in Family and Community, Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto, USA

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BMC Public Health 2009, 9:77  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-9-77

Published: 6 March 2009

Abstract

Background

The impact of unemployment on behaviours such as smoking, drinking and body weight has been extensively researched. However, little is known about the possible protective effects of social assistance programs on these behavioural changes. This study examines the impact of unemployment periods on smoking, drinking and body weight changes among re-employed individuals and investigates whether the receipt of unemployment benefits influences these behaviours.

Methods

This study used panel data provided by the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. Logistic regression models were used to analyze whether a period of unemployment in 2000 resulted in an increase in smoking and drinking or fluctuations in body weight among 2001 re-employed individuals in comparison with 1999 baseline levels. A total of 3,451 respondents who had been initially healthy and who had been continuously employed between 1998 and 1999 were included in the analysis.

Results

Compared to stably employed respondents, those who had experienced periods of unemployment in 2000 and did not receive unemployment benefits were more likely than continuously employed individuals to report an increase in alcohol consumption (OR 1.8, 95% CI 1.0–3.1) and a decrease in body weight (OR 1.7, 95% CI 1.1–2.8) when they were already re-employed in 2001.

Conclusion

Our findings suggest that the receipt of unemployment benefits confers a protective effect on health behavioural changes following periods of unemployment. These findings underscore the need to monitor the impact of unemployment assistance programs on health, particularly in light of the rapidly changing structure of employment and unemployment benefits.