Study Finds Obese or Overweight Teens More Likely to Smoke Cigarettes

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In a study recently published in the American Journal of Health Behavior, researchers sought to answer the question of whether BMI had any correlation with teenage substance abuse. The results found that though teens with a high BMI were no more likely than their peers to abuse alcohol or marijuana, being overweight or obese during adolescence was correlated with regular cigarette smoking in young adulthood.

Data for this study was pulled from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a large study which has followed thousands of young teens (grades 7-12) into adulthood over the past 20 years. Though previous results connecting substance abuse to BMI have been mixed, Christopher N. Ochner, Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York noted that "this study adds something to the argument," as it utilizes both a large sample size as well as supported statistical processes.

Researchers suggest that some of the increased likeliness of higher BMIs being connected to smoking come from a popular, though untrue, rumor that cigarettes can help with weight reduction or appetite suppression. Ochner, who is also a spokesperson for The Obesity Society, denies that there’s any truth to this rumor, even noting that "people who smoke crave fatty foods more."

Lead author of the study and research associate with the UCLA Integrated Substance Abuse Programs in Los Angeles, H. Isabella Lanza, Ph.D., suggests alternate reasons for the connection: "Young people smoke cigarettes for a variety of reasons. For overweight or obese adolescents, the increased desire to improve social standing or fit in with others may also increase the probability of engaging in regular cigarette smoking.”

Regardless of why the correlation between high BMI and smoking rates exists, this connection is important to improving teen health, especially as e-cigarettes and other new forms of smoking are on the rise among teenagers. With more than one third of children and adolescents falling in the range of overweight or obese (as of 2012), and tobacco use causing more than 5 million deaths worldwide per year, a deeper understanding of the results of this study is vital to decreasing two of the most dangerous health issues for teens.



Did you know there’s a health and well being magazine written specifically for teens? Choices Magazine helps your teen understand dangerous substances with stories like “Teens vs. Cigarettes” and “Scary Spice.” Click here to sample an issue.