Teenage girls who are dieting are almost twice as likely to start smoking regularly as girls who are not dieting, according to a new study of nearly 8,000 adolescents. With boys, cigarette availability rather than the desire to lose weight is a factor in the decision to give smoking a try.
“We were expecting that the relationship between dieting and smoking was going to be stronger among females,” said lead author Mildred Maldonado-Molina, Ph.D., of the University of Florida, College of Medicine. “Our findings were consistent with previous studies examining the relationship between dieting behaviors and smoking initiation.”
The researchers based their study on past evidence showing that body weight often drives people’s decision to smoke — one of the reasons people start smoking or do not try to quit might be because of the effect cigarettes could have on weight control.
Researchers used data from a national school-based study that took place between April 1994 and August 1996. They looked at body mass index (BMI) and survey responses for 7,795 white and African-American adolescents in grades seven through 12.
BMI was used to determine whether students were overweight. Through the survey, students were asked if they were trying to lose weight. Students were also asked if they had easy access to cigarettes at home from smoking parents, if they had tried cigarettes for the first time within the time frame of the study or if they were regular smokers who smoked at least one cigarette a day for a month.
The authors found that female teens who started dieting during the study period were 1.94 times more likely to start regularly smoking than non-dieting teens, and male teens who were not dieters and who had cigarettes available at home were more likely to try smoking.
What’s more, although a higher percentage of males were overweight (30.3 percent) compared with females (20.6 percent), more females were dieting to lose weight than males were (55 percent vs. 24 percent).
“These findings are consistent with societal pressures for females to be thin and to diet,” said Maldonado-Molina.
Claire Mullins, vice president of communications at the American Lung Association of Maryland, acknowledged that the link between diet and smoking is a concern.
“Since nicotine raises metabolism and thus the potential to lose weight, teens might perceive that ‘benefit’ to be an influencing factor in the decision to start smoking,” she said.
Mullins also agreed with the study’s findings that parents who smoke contribute a great deal to their children starting smoking.
The study appears in the September/October issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.
Maldonado-Molina MM, Komro KA, Prado G. Prospective association between dieting and smoking initiation among adolescents. Am J Health Promo 22(1), 2007.
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