WASHINGTON - While the tobacco industry has named cigarettes "thins" and "slims" in an attempt to capitalize on weight-conscious young women who believe that beginning smoking will enable them to control their body weight, new research shows that for people under 30, smoking does not prevent typical age-related weight gain. A study of nearly 4,000 White and Black young adults (ages 18 to 30) to be reported in the December issue of the American Psychological Association's (APA) Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology indicates that smoking has a negligible effect on body weight.
Researchers, led by Robert C. Klesges, Ph.D., of the University of Memphis Prevention Center, investigated the relationships among smoking, smoking initiation, smoking cessation, and weight change in young adults from the national data set Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA). This is the first study to examine either continuous smoking or smoking initiation and weight gain among young adults. The researchers classified participants into six groups based on self-reported smoking status (i.e. those who never smoked, regular smokers, and those who quit during the study). Participants' self-reported smoking status and body weight were reassessed at two-, five-, and seven-year follow-ups.
The researchers found minimal evidence of a weight control benefit from smoking (meaning that smoking leads to weight loss or an attenuation of weight gain). Those who smoked, or began smoking, did not lose weight. While smoking was associated with an attenuation of weight gain among Black adults, no such effect occurred among White men or women, the latter being the group most likely to smoke "to control body weight." The finding of little immediate or even long-term (seven years) weight-control benefit from smoking among young adults goes against the beliefs of both smokers and nonsmokers that smoking helps or control limit weight gain. Thus any weight control benefit derived from smoking is likely to take many years before any significant weight difference occurs in smokers, according to the authors.
The researchers also found that individuals who quit smoking experienced greater weight gain than individuals who continued smoking or never smoked at all. Within the population that quit smoking, post-cessation weight gain was greater for Blacks (13.1 kilograms) than Whites (9.4 kilograms). Since weight gain was common in this cohort of young adults regardless of smoking status (during the study, 54% gained at least 5 kilograms and 29% gained at least 10 kilograms), weight gain attributable to smoking cessation was approximately 4.1 to 6.6 kilograms. Thus while smoking is not a successful mechanism for weight control, smoking cessation has serious long-term consequences for body weight.
"These findings have important public health implications, since the perception that smoking controls body weight is widespread, particularly among youth," said Dr. Klesges, lead author of the study. "Every day, many young Americans begin smoking believing that it will help them lose weight, but these results demonstrate that smoking does not help control weight, and only after decades of smoking do we see a difference in body weights of smokers and non-smokers. If young people throughout the nation can learn that smoking has no effect on body weight, it is likely that a significant reduction among smoking in youth would be observed."
The authors suggest that future research should look at the effects of smoking on body weight among younger participants, since the pre-teen and teenage years are when individuals typically start smoking. While this research focused on smoking and weight gain among Whites and Blacks, future studies should also gauge whether these findings apply to other ethnic groups.
Materials provided by American Psychological Association. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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