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Open Access Research article

The association of smoking and demographic characteristics on body mass index and obesity among adults in the U.S., 1999–2012

Nantaporn Plurphanswat1 and Brad Rodu2*

Author Affiliations

1 James Graham Brown Cancer Center, University of Louisville, 505 South Hancock Street, Louisville 40202, KY, USA

2 Department of Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Louisville, 505 South Hancock Street, Louisville 40202, KY, USA

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BMC Obesity 2014, 1:18  doi:10.1186/s40608-014-0018-0

Published: 30 August 2014



The National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) are an exceptional data source for studies of smoking and body weight because they are the only federal survey series collecting relevant information through detailed interviews and medical examinations. The associations of smoking status and demographic factors with body weight have not been evaluated fully in recent NHANES.


Using NHANES datasets from 1999 to 2012, this study uses ordinary-least squares and ordered probit models to investigate the association of smoking and selected demographic variables with body mass index (BMI) and the probability of being in BMI categories among adults aged 25–64 years, and it uses quantile regression to examine whether these factors affect individuals differently depending on where they are located across the BMI distribution.


The sample consisted of 11,123 men and 10,949 women. Current smokers had significantly lower BMI than never smokers (1.97 unit for men and 1.46 unit for women), and there was modest variation across the BMI distribution. Among former smokers, only women had a slightly higher BMI compared to never smokers (0.46 unit). Both men and women current smokers were more likely to be underweight and normal weight compared to never smokers and were less likely to be obese. Among men a one-year age increase elevated BMI by 0.2 unit throughout the BMI distribution, while for women an extra year of age increased BMI at the upper tail of the distribution more than at the lower tail. Education beyond high school was associated with a significant decrease in BMI among women, but much less so among men. Married men had higher BMI, but married women had significantly lower BMI, and this difference became larger at the upper tail.


Compared to never smokers, men and women current smokers had lower BMI and lower probability of obesity, while only women former smokers had elevated BMIs and increased probability of obesity. In addition, we found that age, education and marital status were associated with different effects on BMI in men and women.

Smoking; BMI; Obesity; NHANES