Girls May Smoke to Stay Thin

Teen Smoking Linked with Weight Concerns

April 24, 2003 -- Teen smoking is still a big problem, but why? A new study finds that, for girls, the main motivation may be weight.

Over the past few decades, public health officials have tried to understand the teen psyche -- what makes teens smoke, even when they know the health risks?

Today's study examines what others have hinted at -- this issue of weight concern. Is being thin the prime reason why teen girls begin smoking?

Researchers surveyed a group of 273 randomly selected teen girls living in Massachusetts -- all between 12 and 15 years old -- asking them a variety of questions about their weight, their thoughts, and their habits:

"How important is it to you to be slim or thin? Have you been depressed? Have you had trouble sleeping? Do you smoke? Do you think you will try a cigarette soon? If one of your best friends were to offer you a cigarette, would you smoke it?"

Four years later, researchers surveyed the teens again to determine who had become a regular smoker.

Teen girls who attached great importance to being thin were four times as likely to become established smokers, reports researcher Kaori Honjo, PhD, with Okayama University in Japan.

Girls less concerned about their weight were less likely to become teen smokers, Honjo reports.

The study, published early online, will appear in the September 2003 issue of Tobacco Control.

In the first survey, one in eight girls was overweight, and at least 75% had tried to diet. Yet most of them -- 80% -- did not believe that smoking was a way of keeping weight off.

Four years later, one in four girls -- 23% -- had become an established smoker, meaning they had smoked 100 or more cigarettes by that time.

The high value placed on thinness seemed to predict who would become a teen smoker. Of those who eventually progressed to smoking, just 7% considered thinness to be unimportant; 93% of the teens who did not become smokers did not consider thinness important, the report states.

One in four of girls who eventually became teen smokers rated thinness as moderately important; 30% of those teens who eventually took up smoking rated thinness as extremely important.

Girls with weight concerns are likely to diet, and if they think smoking will also help them get thin, they will try that too. Negative body image and poor self-esteem are probably part of the scenario, Honjo states.