UMass Amherst Research Targets Smoking Link with Food Insecurity

Jin Kim-Mozeleski
Jin Kim-Mozeleski

AMHERST, Mass. – University of Massachusetts Amherst social and health psychologist Jin Kim-Mozeleski recently received a five-year, $839,000 grant from the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse to develop an outreach program to help people with food insecurity to quit smoking.

Her project follows up on research that observed a link between smoking and the difficulty in having access to enough healthy and preferred food to lead an active and healthy life.

As she explains, about 15 percent of the adult general population are smokers, but the rate can be higher among certain ethnic, educational and income subgroups. However, that increase can rise to as much as 26 to 40 percent among people with food insecurity.

“From an epidemiological standpoint, smoking is uniquely associated with food insecurity,” she says. “You can statistically control for socioeconomic status, ethnicity, income and other factors you think might explain this association, but it’s not just a proxy for poverty or one of these other factors.”

“We are interested in understanding the individual, social and environmental factors that pose unique challenges to smoking cessation among individuals who want to quit but are also struggling to make ends meet,” she points out. She adds that part of promoting healthy behaviors is to go upstream to examine how broader factors can affect health behavior.”

Over the coming five years, Kim-Mozeleski plans to conduct not only brief health assessment surveys, but she and her students will invite respondents to take part in in-depth interviews. This will allow the researchers to learn more about their personal circumstances and lived experiences.

With her colleagues David Buchanan, chair of health promotion and policy, and health care researcher and anthropologist Susan Shaw at UMass Amherst’s School of Public Health and Health Sciences, plus Janice Tsoh, a clinical psychologist in behavioral medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, Kim-Mozeleski will use the survey and interview data to help her design a smoking cessation outreach program that targets smokers in community-based organizations and social service settings – a relatively new approach, she says.

The social and health psychologist says this career development award will also allow her to explore new approaches to promoting smoking cessation. She says, “One of the thoughts percolating for me is whether, if we address food insecurity, it could be one less life stress that people face, because food insecurity is actionable. We know how to address it through policies. By the end of five years I hope to have some new insight into motivations, new messages, and a pilot project to test in local community settings.”

Kim-Mozeleski, who joined the UMass Amherst faculty in September 2017, has already enlisted one graduate student for this project and expects to include several undergraduates to it later. They will gain hands-on research experience in learning survey preparation and data collection skills, for example.