Georgetown Health Care Center
Although most people are aware of the dangers of smoking, the number of youth who begin smoking is increasing. For many of those young smokers, one reason given for taking up the habit is to control weight gain.
However, a recent study (J Consult Clin Psychol 1998; 66:987-93)) disputes the widely held notion that smoking will prevent typical weight gain associated with getting older. Researchers from the University of Memphis tracked almost 5,000 young adults, aged 18 to 30 years, for 7 years and categorized them as never smokers, quitters, initiators, or intermittent smokers.
The results of the study confirmed the widely held perception that when people quit smoking, they gain weight. Over 7 years, persons who quit smoking experienced greater weight gain than continuous smokers or those who never smoked at all. However, the result did not find that smoking controlled body weight gain, and the assumption that when one starts smoking, weight loss follows, is incorrect. In fact, all groups, including continuous smokers and those who started to smoke during the study period, gained weight over the 7 years of follow-up.
When a person begins to smoke, they gain, rather than lose weight. Smokers gained about the same amount of weight in their late teens and twenties (approximately 2 pounds per year) as did nonsmokers. It takes many years to see the weight difference between smokers and nonsmokers. Because smokers do not gain weight as quickly as nonsmokers, a 7-10 pound weight difference may be apparent by middleage. This weight difference is probably due to the poorer health of smokers. The bottom line is that smoking is not an effective weight loss tool. Those that smoke to stay thin - many of the 33 percent of high school students who do smoke - should examine their decision to continue smoking.
The results are interesting, but not conclusive. A study at the University of South Carolina uncovered a strong link between women who consistently ate very well done hamberger, beef, and bacon, and breast cancer - a 462 percent higher risk. It is too soon to know if this finding is due to chance or fact. More research is being conducted.
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