A longitudinal study of the effects of tobacco smoking and other modifiable risk factors on ill health in middle-aged and old Americans: results from the Health and Retirement Study and Asset and Health Dynamics among the Oldest Old survey

Prev Med. 2002 Mar;34(3):334-45. doi: 10.1006/pmed.2001.0991.


Background: While the effects of smoking and other modifiable risk factors on mortality and specific diseases are well established, their effects on ill health more generally are less known. Using two national, longitudinal surveys, the objective of this study was to analyze the effect of smoking and other modifiable risk factors on ill health, defined in a multidimensional fashion (i.e., disability, impaired mobility, health care utilization, and self-reported health).

Methods: The analyses were based on the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) (12,652 persons 50-60 years old surveyed in 1992, 1994, 1996, and 1998) and the Asset and Health Dynamics among the Oldest Old survey (8,124 persons 60-70 years old surveyed in 1993, 1996, and 1998).

Results: Smoking was strongly related to mortality and to ill health, with similar relative effects in the middle-aged and the elderly. There were consistent adverse dose-response relationships between smoking and ill health in the HRS. Persons who had quit smoking at least 15 years prior to the survey were no more likely than never smokers to experience ill health. A dose-response relationship was found between exercise and ill health. For body mass index and alcohol, there were U-shaped relationships with ill health.

Conclusions: Public health efforts designed to encourage smoking cessation should emphasize improvements in ill health in addition to decreased mortality.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Status*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Life Style*
  • Logistic Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Smoking / epidemiology*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Survival Rate
  • United States / epidemiology