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Does Teen Smoking Promote Obesity?

Smoking is well known to suppress appetite and many young smokers, especially women, smoke to control their weight.

Paradoxically, however, it turns out that smoking, at least in teenagers, strongly promotes the development of abdominal obesity – the dangerous fat that leads to diabetes, dysplipidemia and heart disease.

This at least is the observation reported by Suoma Saarni, University of Helsinki, Finland published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Using the FinnTwin16 sample, a prospective, population-based questionnaire study of 5 consecutive and complete birth cohorts of Finnish twins born between 1975 and 1979 (N=4296), studied at four points between the ages of 16 and 27 years, Saarni and colleagues analyzed the effect of adolescent smoking on abdominal obesity and overweight in early hood.

Smoking at least 10 cigarettes daily when aged 16 to 18 years increased the risk of abdominal obesity by around 30% for all participants. However, for women, the risk of becoming overweight after adjustment for possible confounders, including baseline BMI was almost 75% higher.

The authors conclude that teenage smoking is a risk factor for abdominal obesity among both genders but especially in women.

How smoking leads to abdominal obesity is not entirely clear. Are smokers prone to developing metabolic changes like insulin resistance or high sympathetic activity that may lead to abdominal fat? Are smokers more likely to become “addicted” eaters as they grow older (and stop smoking)? Are smokers less physically active than non-smokers, thereby becoming more prone to abdominal fat deposition? Do smokers make poorer food choices (e.g. more transfats)?

It appears that more work needs to be done before we fully understand the link – however, a clear message to those who smoke to control their weight – smoking is unhealthy, period.

Using tobacco to control weight makes no sense – a few pounds gained with smoking cessation are nowhere near the risk posed by continued smoking.

Quit now!

Jasper, Alberta


  1. Being a former teen smoker I wonder whether or not the reason behind the weight gain is the fact that most teens who smoke don’t do so at home.

    Consequently teen smokers may be more inclined to eat out (restaurants, coffee shops etc) and given that this study relates to the mid 90s, smoking in restaurants and coffee shops may not have been outlawed yet.

    Thus perhaps the way teen smoking affects weight is by setting up comfort with a lifestyle that leads to more meals out as adults.

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