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Young adults often smoke to control their weight, even though most of them want to stop smoking

Adults younger than 30 years are more likely to smoke if they are trying to lose weight, even though many want to stop smoking. Young adults trying to lose weight were almost twice as likely to want to quit smoking as those not concerned about controlling their weight, according to a study supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (National Research Service Award fellowship F32 HS00137). Thus, a patient's weight control efforts should not discourage doctors from counseling them about smoking cessation, concludes Christina C. Wee, M.D., M.P.H., of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Dr. Wee and her colleagues analyzed results from the Year 2000 Supplement of the 1995 National Health Interview Survey. Adult respondents provided sociodemographic and health information, including their smoking history and whether they were trying to lose weight, maintain weight, or gain weight.

Among current smokers who were also trying to control their weight, a striking 74 percent said they wanted to quit smoking. In fact, 81 percent of those trying to lose weight, 73 percent of those trying to maintain weight, and 70 percent of those not trying to control weight said they would like to quit smoking. Among smokers who smoked daily, nearly half (46 percent) had made at least one attempt to quit smoking in the preceding year. Fifty-four percent of adults trying to lose weight and 46 percent of those trying to maintain their weight had tried to quit smoking at least once in the past year, compared with 41 percent of those not trying to control their weight.

Factors such as sex, socioeconomic status, years of smoking, number of cigarettes smoked per day, and chronic illness did not alter the relationship between desire to lose weight and desire to quit smoking. Age, however, did make a difference. While there was no relationship between smoking behavior and attempts to control weight among adults 30 years and older, adults younger than age 30 were much more likely to smoke if they were also trying to lose weight.

These findings raise concerns that public health efforts to increase awareness of the health problems related to being overweight may lead to a rise in smoking initiation among young adults, notes Dr. Wee. Clinicians and public health officials need to educate young adults about the adverse effects of smoking and about healthier methods of weight control, suggest the researchers.

More details are in "Relationship between smoking and weight control efforts among adults in the United States," by Dr. Wee, Nancy A. Rigotti, M.D., Roger B. Davis, Sc.D., and Russell S. Phillips, M.D., in the February 26, 2001 Archives of Internal Medicine 161, pp. 546-550.

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