Myth Busters: Skinny Smokers

Smokers have higher body fat in one study of Korean men

(RxWiki News) There’s this myth out there that smoking helps keep the weight off. But recent science may have just proved that myth completely wrong.

A recent study did computer body scans of 4,656 men to compare body fat to smoking habits. Results found smokers to have an average of 11 percent more body fat than non-smokers.

"Quit smoking ASAP."

Kiheon Lee, MD, professor in the Department of Family Medicine at Seoul National University College of Medicine in Seongnam-si, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea, led an investigation into smoking and obesity.

For the study, 4,656 Korean men aged 19-79, were given computed tomography (CT) scans as part of their regular check ups from 2008-2010. They were also asked about their smoking habits and history.

The CT scans were used to measure body fat. Adipose tissue is the medical term for body fat and there are two kinds to measure.

Visceral adipose tissue (VAT) is the body fat that lives in the liver and around vital organs. Subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) is the body fat that lives just beneath the skin’s surface.

Results found that current smokers of more than a pack a day had, on average, 11 percent higher VAT than never smokers.

Ex-smokers had more VAT based on the less time lapsed since they had quit, the heavier a smoker they were and the longer they had been a smoker.

The average VAT of ex-smokers was highest after 2 years of no smoking. After 20 years of no smoking there were no longer differences to be found between smokers’ and non-smokers’ amount of VAT.

Authors said, “Both current and former smoking is associated with increased VAT. The risk of visceral obesity is proportional to the degree of exposure to cigarette smoking.”

Further studies should be done to include women and other races to see if results are consistent across groups of people.

This study was published in September in Preventative Medicine. No financial information was given and no conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
September 17, 2012