Study: Teen Smokers Likely to Be Fat Adults

Telling teenage would-be smokers that lighting up may make them fat down the road may be a more effective deterrent than harping on the risks of heart disease and cancer from smoking, hints research published in the latest issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

In a study, Finnish researchers found that smoking during adolescence strongly predicted the development of abdominal obesity in adulthood, among both men and women.

In particular, they found that girls who smoked at least 10 cigarettes daily during adolescence had a 3.4-centimeter larger waistline as young adults, on average, than did girls who had never smoked.

Smoking during adolescence also increased a woman's odds of being heavy in general later in life, not just having a large waistline. Girls who smoked at least 10 cigarettes daily during adolescence were twice as likely to become overweight as nonsmokers.

The findings stem from a long-term follow-up study of nearly 4300 Finnish twins born between 1975 and 1979. About 50 percent of the men and women had never smoked and 12 percent had smoked during adolescence. By the time they were in their early 20s, about 24 percent of men and 11 percent of women were overweight.

In comments to Reuters Health, study chief Dr. Suoma E. Saarni, from University of Helsinki, told Reuters Health that smoking in adolescence "seems to predispose" the smoker to a large waistline, independent of health habits and parents body weight (i.e., a young person's genetic predisposition to being overweight or obese).

"And most interesting," said Saarni, the apparent link between smoking during adolescence and being heavy later on was independent of the young person's own body weight — meaning that those who were heavy smokers had greater waist circumference even within the same body mass index (BMI) levels as their non-smokers peers.

This research, Saarni added, "gives a tool" to highlight the risks of smoking to adolescents and young adults "by showing the unhealthy effect on the body shape." This can be an important deterrent, "because usually young people find cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes or even cancer so distant risks that they have very little impact on ones smoking behavior."