Monday, October 29, 2012

Puffs and pounds

In this morning’s “Fact or Fiction: Connections Between Tobacco Use and Weight” session, researchers stressed why public health must not only help people quit smoking but also give advice on healthy eating and exercise.

Obese smokers, for example, have lower quit rates and gain more weight when they do break the smoking habit. Adolescent girls, in particular those with body image issues, might start smoking to try to lose or control their weight. And, not surprisingly, a study in Hungary that surveyed youth ages 11–19 found parents who smoked and believed smoking helped them avoid weight gain were more likely to have kids who also smoked.

“As you’re well aware, we’re in the midst of an obesity epidemic, which has now gone global,” said researcher Terry Bush, of Alere Wellbeing, the service providers of state smoking quitlines.

Her study found many obese smokers are trying to quit and lose weight at the same time, putting themselves at risk for failure by taking on too much of a lifestyle change at once. Her study, like many others, found a lot of people use smoking to alleviate stress.

Yet the study found obese smokers would “really welcome” counseling on how to quit smoking and how to eat healthfully. She and her fellow researchers noted a low level of nutritional awareness among obese smokers who called quitlines.

“Many people were astounded they were so heavy because they said they only eat one meal a day and it was at night,” Bush said.

Francis Annor, of the Georgia Department of Health, talked about a study looking at the risk of obesity over the long term among obese smokers who quit. He said the public health community must emphasize that smoking cessation should also address concerns about weight gain.

In Annor’s study, obesity rates were higher among former smokers than current smokers or those who never lit up in the first place. That points to a common sense public health message, he said.

“It is always a good idea to never start smoking.”

— D.C.

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