University at Buffalo Researchers Study Association between Depressive Symptoms and Health Behaviors Associated, Ethnicity

Published February 5, 2015

Higher levels of depression and negative affect are often thought to go hand-in-hand with less healthy behavior, such as cigarette smoking and low levels of fruit and vegetable consumption. However, in a study recently published in Health Psychology, researchers from the University of Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions, department of Community Health and Health Behavior (CHHB) found that depression is only associated with a greater likelihood of smoking and lower fruit and vegetable consumption for White respondents. For Black respondents, there was no relation between negative affective states and these health behaviors.

“We know that smoking rates, fruit and vegetable consumption, and other health behaviors vary by race/ethnicity, but the mechanisms underlying these differences are not fully understood.  For this study, we examined whether the relation of negative affective states, specifically depression and anxiety, to smoking and fruit and vegetable consumption differs across different racial/ethnic groups,” said Erin Ellis, PhD, and recent graduate of the PhD program in CHHB.

Researchers used data from a national survey conducted in 2012 by the National Cancer Institute (Health Information National Trends Survey) which included respondents of Caucasian, African American, and Hispanic ethnicities. Survey respondents reported their current symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as smoking status and fruit and vegetable consumption.

What the researchers found through logistical regression analyses is that depressive symptoms were associated with a greater likelihood of smoking and less fruit and vegetable consumption for White adults, but not Black adults.  Effects for hispanic adults were mixed; depressive symptoms were associated with a greater likelihood of currently smoking, but were not associated with fruit and vegetable consumption.  The relation of anxiety symptoms to smoking and fruit and vegetable consumption did not differ as a function of race/ethnicity.

“These findings underscore the need to examine and understand the mechanisms that drive health behaviors for all population groups, particularly those that carry a disproportionate burden of the negative health outcomes associated with these health behaviors,” says Ellis.  This type of work is important for developing interventions that effectively target smoking and fruit and vegetable consumption among different racial/ethnic subgroups.

Ellis is now a postdoctoral fellow in the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program. In addition to Ellis, co-authors from the department of CHHB at the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions include: Heather Orom, PhD, assistant professor; Gary A. Giovino, PhD, professor and chair; and Marc T. Kiviniemi, PhD, assistant professor.