Girls 'smoke to be slim'

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SMOKING is a successful method of weight-control that health educators must acknowledge if they are to reduce the number of teenage girls taking up the habit, a study suggests, writes Liz Hunt.

Girls who worry about their weight start smoking largely because they believe it will stop them getting fat, the research by Arthur Crisp, professor of psychiatry at St Georges's Hospital Medical School, south London, indicates. He says the 'alarming' prospect that cigarettes help women control their weight means that there must be a change of emphasis in anti-smoking messages for this group.

'This population of young adult females has proved resistant to stopping smoking. Of paramount importance to them is their weight.'

Professor Crisp and colleagues carried out a study of almost 2,000 girls aged 11-18. They found a significant link between smoking and weight. The smokers were more likely to be moderately overweight and to have been worried about their weight recently. Twelve per cent were regular smokers, rising to 15 per cent in those aged 14 and over, with a further 9 per cent admitting to the occasional cigarette.

Professor Gordon McVie, scientific director of the Cancer Research Campaign which funded the study with the European Commission, said the findings had implications for anti-smoking strategies.

A second study, published in tomorrow's issue of the British Medical Journal, found that the diet of smokers is more unhealthy than that of non-smokers, and this probably increases the damage caused by smoking. Smokers ate more processed foods, sugar and butter than non-smokers and less fibre, protein fruits and vegetables. They also had lower levels of anti-oxidants (vitamins C and E, and beta-carotene) which protect against chemicals implicated in cancer and heart disease.