Obese Girls More Than Twice as Likely to Be Addicted to Smoking

Release Date: June 21, 2011 | By Laura Kennedy, Contributing Writer
Research Source: Journal of Adolescent Health


  • Obese girls are more likely to become highly addicted to cigarettes than their non-obese peers.
  • Obese girls are more likely to report depressive symptoms, low self-esteem, low school and family connectedness, and lower grades.
  • Higher grade point average is protective against the risk of severe nicotine addiction in obese girls.
  • Obesity may “stand in” for a host of psychosocial risk factors that predict both obesity and smoking in girls.
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Obese teenage girls are more than twice as likely as other girls to develop high-level nicotine addiction as young adults, according to a new study. Nearly 20 percent of American adolescents currently are obese, the authors note.

Smoking is just one of the problematic behaviors that appeal to some teens, along with delinquency, drug use, alcohol use and early or unprotected sexual activity. Some of the risk factors that could lead teens to engage in these behaviors include low self-esteem, depression and poor academic performance. Obese teenage girls in the study were more likely to report each of these risk factors.

“As we address the issue of obesity, it is important to prevent poor medical outcomes, but we must also recognize the risk for these psychosocial outcomes and support and counsel teens appropriately,” said lead author Aliya Esmail Hussaini, M.D., of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation in Austin, Texas.

The study appears online in the Journal of Adolescent Health. The authors analyzed data from a group of more than 4,000 U.S. adolescent girls who responded to three waves of surveys over a six-year period. The findings regarding obesity and nicotine addiction held true regardless of socioeconomic status, age, race, parental smoking and many other factors.

The surveys included a six-question section designed to assess nicotine dependence and the authors described the highest scores as “high-level nicotine addiction.”

This description might suggest someone similar to “a heroin addict in the last stage of desperation,” said Dr. Richard Jessor, Ph.D., director of the Health and Society Research Program at the University of Colorado-Boulder Institute of Behavioral Science. Jessor, who has no affiliation with the study, said he believes that a more moderate term such as “heavy smoker” would be more appropriate.

It is also important to point out that obesity might not be a stand-alone risk factor for heavy smoking, Jessor said. Instead, similar psychosocial risk factors might lead to a “syndrome” of problem behaviors that includes both obesity and heavy smoking.

Regardless of the exact nature of the correlation, Hussaini and Jessor agree that it is critical for parents to model positive behaviors by not smoking, engaging in healthy eating and physical activity, and promoting commitment to school.

While preparing the study, Hussaini received support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program at the University of Pennsylvania.

TERMS OF USE: This story is protected by copyright. When reproducing any material, including interview excerpts, attribution to the Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health, is required.


For More Information:

Reach the Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health, at (202) 387-2829 or [email protected].

Journal of Adolescent Health: Contact Tor Berg at (415) 502-1373 or [email protected] or visit www.jahonline.org.

Hussaini AE, et al. Alcoholic beverage preferences and associated drinking patterns and risk behaviors among high school youth. J Adolesc Health online, 2011.

Tags for this article:
Smoking   Relationships/Social Support   Children and Young People's Health   Obesity  

Comments on this article
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sheila says
June 21, 2011 at 1:13 AM

This is terrific! Johnson and Johnson can get them on their nicotine replacement products, and their Splenda, and sell them their bariatric procedure too! And then, after you have thoroughly depressed all these people, and isolated them from their friends, J&J have all those lovely anti anxiety drugs and anti depressants! I'm calling this a home run for J&J and the foundations who support this.

Sheila says
June 21, 2011 at 1:19 AM

I failed to mention, for visitors, that Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the

Sheila says
June 21, 2011 at 1:21 AM


Francis says
June 21, 2011 at 2:23 AM

Some people are desperate to keep a pay check. Graduation must have been at fantasy land.

marbee says
June 21, 2011 at 3:35 AM

hmmm, seems I just read that smoking keeps the weight down! This must be a desperate attempt at damage control. For big pharma's bottom line, that is.

marbee says
June 21, 2011 at 3:35 AM

hmmm, seems I just read that smoking keeps the weight down! This must be a desperate attempt at damage control. For big pharma's bottom line, that is.

Linda says
June 21, 2011 at 7:31 AM

Probably pimps more pharma nicotine patches and gums after their foundation funds anti smoking and smoking bans..go figure

Keeping an eye on it says
June 21, 2011 at 7:39 AM

Let's not forget the solutions Pharma has come up with concerning weight loss.
Wyeth is now part of Pfizer.

RIP Shirley Scott.

Makes you wonder why Chantix hasn't been yanked yet. Do we need a high profile person to suffer from this drug before the public gets a **** clue about it?

Sophie says
June 21, 2011 at 7:09 PM

Just thought I would clarify after a google search of Robert Wood Johnson. It is a completely different organization from Johnson & Johnson and has no affiliation with the corp. I wanted to clarify because I don't think we should minimize the important implications of this article.
I have attached the link about the Johnson Foundation below for others to learn about their mission: