When teens decide whether or not to smoke, they may hear that their decision affects their risk of cancer, but they might not know that it could also affect their ability to stay trim. A new study found that girls who take up smoking in their teens have an increased future risk of becoming overweight, and both girls and boys who smoke during adolescence are more likely to develop abdominal obesity—the type that is most closely linked with diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Girl and boy smokers have different risks
The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, enrolled 4,296 healthy 16-year-old boys and girls and followed them into their early adulthood. They reported their height and weight and answered questions about their eating, exercise, and smoking habits at ages 16 and 18.5, and again at an average age of 24.4 years.
Abdominal obesity, defined as a waistline measurement of 40 inches (102 centimeters) or more in men or 35 inches (88 centimeters) or more in women, was more prevalent in young adults who had smoked during adolescence. Teen smokers were 34% more likely to develop abdominal obesity than nonsmokers. For girls, the risk of becoming generally overweight was dramatically affected by teen smoking status: heavy smoking (ten or more cigarettes per day) between 16 and 18 years old increased girls’ risk of overweight in young adulthood by 74%. For boys, however, the risk of becoming generally overweight was not changed by adolescent smoking.
Abdominal obesity is a serious health risk
Abdominal or central obesity refers to the kind of fat distribution known as belly fat or the “apple shape.” The accumulation of fat between the organs of the torso results in the increasing waist circumference that is the hallmark of abdominal obesity and distinguishes this more dangerous type of obesity from other patterns of fat distribution. People with central obesity have a higher risk of insulin resistance, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
“The extra kilograms on the waistline among the heavy smokers are of clinical and public health importance because of the well-documented detrimental metabolic effects of central fat,” said lead study author Dr. Suoma Saarni of the Department of Public Health at the University of Helsinki in Helsinki, Finland. “Based on our findings, adolescent smoking should be seen as a clinical sign of increased metabolic hazard. Preventing teen smoking could prove to be an important strategy for promoting healthy weight and preventing health problems in adulthood related to metabolic disturbance.”
Keep your belly trim
In addition to not smoking, abdominal obesity can be prevented through diet and exercise:
• Participate in regular aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking or jogging, 30 to 45 minutes per day five or more times per week.
• Eat a diet based on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, fish, and low-fat animal foods.
• Avoid fast foods, fried foods, soft drinks, and sweets and refined grains like white rice and foods made with white flour.
(Am J Public Health 2009;99: e-publication)
Maureen Williams, ND
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