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Study Shows Teenage Girls Smoke to Lose Weight

By Patricia Reaney  

LONDON — Teenage girls are taking up smoking to control their weight, British researchers said on Monday.

A study of 3,000 young girls in London and Ottawa, Canada, showed 20 percent of them smoked and nearly a third of these were likely to be overweight because they were prone to overeat.

"We found significant links between smoking and concerns about feeling fat among schoolgirls 11 to 18 years old," Professor Arthur Crisp, of St George's Hospital in London, told a news conference.

A majority of the girls who smoked said they wanted to lose weight and began smoking to keep the pounds (kilograms) off. One in four admitted it reduced their appetite and said they smoked instead of eating.

Most of the British girls who smoked claimed they had lost 14 pounds (6 kg) since puberty.

Crisp, who has done extensive research on eating disorders, said the study is an indication of how difficult it is for young girls to cope with puberty and how unhappy they are with their looks.

He described it as a typically female phenomenon which does not affect adolescent boys.

"Not only do they (girls) feel too fat but they are also frightened of losing control of their eating. More worrying too is the fact that they are using cigarettes as a way of controlling their weight and trading pounds (kilograms) off their weight for years off their life," he said.

Crisp also noted that smoking "is quite common" among people with eating disorders and that young girls recognize that older girls who smoke are consistently thin.

The study, funded by the Cancer Research Campaign, also revealed that girls who drank alcohol were seven times more likely to be smokers and that peer pressure and parental smoking were not major factors in their decision to smoke.

Gordon McVie, the director general of the Cancer Research Campaign, blamed puberty, a change of body shape and "a worry that I want to be like (model) Kate Moss" for the increase in teenage smoking.

"This study portrays a desperately sad picture of teenage girls' self-image and their unsuccessful attempts to attain an idealized, lower weight," he said.

McVie urged parents to be more assertive in convincing their daughters not to smoke and said an alternative crutch is needed for girls likely to take up smoking.

"To tackle the problem, we may first need to take account of, and deal with excessive female concerns about body shape," he added.

Studies have shown that up to 80 percent of smokers acquire the habit by the time they are 15 or 16 years old. Approximately one third of the world's population smokes, despite the link with lung cancer and respiratory and heart disease.