Weight Worries Lead To Teen Smoking

Researchers of a recent study have identified the desire to be thin as a leading cause of smoking among teenage girls. The study, sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), tracked 2,379 girls during a nine-year period. Black girls and white girls concerned about weight at ages 11 and 12 were most likely to become daily smokers by ages 18 and 19. For white girls at those earlier ages, poor conduct in school, stress, and living in a one-parent household were also key precursors leading to daily smoking by ages 18 and 19. In general, white girls were more likely than black girls to become daily smokers.

Researchers hope their findings will lead to more effective programs aimed at reducing teen smoking. National surveys show that teenage smoking, especially among whites, is on the rise. One federal agency estimates that more than 3,000 young people start smoking each day. Current predictions are that, in the United States, 5 million of today's young smokers will eventually die from a tobacco-related illness.

The NHLBI study has brought several new issues to light. "Many of the factors we identified were not even on our radar screens ten years ago," says the study's lead investigator, Carolyn Voorhees, PhD, of the Johns Hopkins University Medical School. "And the drive for thinness among black girls has not been previously reported."

Says Eva Obarzanek, MD, project officer and staff nutritionist at the NHLBI, "The findings show that we need to offer young teenage girls healthy ways of controlling their weight and dealing with stress."

—Kristen Laine