Cigarette Smoking May Lead to Excess Fat, Calorie Consumption in Women with Obesity, Study Finds

Research in Obesity Journal Contradicts Idea that Smoking Aids in Keeping a Healthy Weight

Apr 01, 2014, 11:20 ET from The Obesity Society

SILVER SPRING, Md., April 1, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Cigarette smoking may blunt fat and sweetness perceptions among female smokers with obesity, leading to higher consumption of fat and sugar for more intense flavor, researchers report. The study, "Cigarette smoking and obesity are associated with decreased fat perception in women," published in the April 2014 issue of the Obesity journal, the official journal of The Obesity Society (TOS), contradicts the idea that cigarette smoking could help women to control body weight in the long term.

"Studies show that people who smoke have unhealthier dietary habits than those who do not smoke," said lead researcher Marta Yanina Pepino, PhD, assistant professor at Washington University School of Medicine. "Our research complements these findings, showing that women who smoke crave fatty food more often than non-smokers, and cravings for cigarettes and cravings for carbs and high-fat foods go hand-in-hand."

Dr. Pepino, joined by Julie A. Mennella, PhD, a biopsychologist from the Monell Center in Philadelphia, where the research was conducted, tested whether the co-occurrence of smoking and obesity is associated with reduced oral fat perception, or fat content perceived by the mouth, in 47 women, between 21 and 41 years of age. The women were separated into four groups (14 smokers with obesity, 11 never-smokers with obesity, 10 normal-weight smokers, 12 normal-weight never-smokers) and asked to rate vanilla puddings that varied in fat content for perceived intensity of creaminess and sweetness.

Overall, female smokers with obesity perceived less creaminess, sweetness and pleasure while tasting any of the puddings than the women in the other groups. According to researchers, this implies that the ability to perceive fat and sweetness and derive pleasure from foods, is compromised in female smokers with obesity, which could contribute to excess calorie intake.

"These findings are particularly concerning for female smokers with obesity who are already at high risk for cardiovascular and metabolic disease," said Dr. Pepino "We already know that smoking is bad for cardiovascular health, outside of its effects on body fat distribution."

Smoking, regardless of BMI, has been previously tied to increased food cravings and consumption of high-fat foods, as well as increased waist-to-hip ratio, both of which are health risk factors and independent predictors of mortality.  

"We know that the combination of smoking and obesity is risky in terms of heart disease and that smoking reduces the pleasurable taste of food," said Chris Ochner, PhD, TOS Public Affairs representative. "Certainly, quitting smoking has substantial benefits on health, and this new research shows it may go even further for women looking to lose weight by potentially helping to reduce cravings for foods high in fat and calories."

According to the researchers, these findings contribute to the growing body of knowledge that challenge the perception that smoking can help a person maintain a "healthy" weight, because alterations in body fat distribution and eating a high-fat diet may actually increase risk of disease.

While this research is contradictory to the idea that smoking aids in weight control, there is research that shows the average weight gain after quitting smoking is approximately 5 – 10 pounds. Further, caloric intake could go in either direction as a result of impaired taste. For example, a smoker may eat less because pleasure is not derived instead of more for additional flavor intensity. More data are needed to determine the impact of impaired taste on weight gain.

About The Obesity Society

The Obesity Society (TOS) is the leading professional society dedicated to better understanding, preventing and treating obesity. Through research, education and advocacy, TOS is committed to improving the lives of those affected by the disease. For more information about the Society visit: Find more information about disclosures here.

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SOURCE The Obesity Society