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Fact-check: Will smoking keep you thin?

Fact-check: Will smoking keep you thin?
Fact-check: Will smoking keep you thin? Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By James Thomas
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The worry of gaining weight is a common excuse for smokers not to quit. The Cube takes a look at a new study which found that both starting smoking and liftetime smoking may increase abdominal fat.

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No, smoking will not keep you thin.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Copenhagen has debunked the oft-cited myth that smoking will help you to keep off the pounds.

Instead, the study, which looked at one and a half million Europeans who smoked, found that smoking actually increases belly fat.

It’s quite well-documented that when people stop smoking, their bodies start burning calories at a slower rate than before, causing them to gain weight.

This has led smokers to believe that continuing the habit will keep them slim. But according to the study, this isn't necessarily the case.

In particular, it found that smoking increases visceral fat – the unhealthy fat deep inside the abdomen that is linked to a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and dementia.

Researchers came to this conclusion by looking at genetic data on smoking and abdominal obesity. To ensure any relationship they observed between smoking and belly fat were directly related to smoking and not other influences, they took into account factors like alcohol intake and socioeconomic status.

The study was based on two underlying European ancestry studies: a smoking study which looked at 1.2 million people who started smoking and over 450,000 lifetime smokers; and a body fat distribution study that included more than 600,000 people.

Dr Germán Carrasquilla, the study's lead author, told The Cube that the researchers' finding of a causal relationship disproved "the simplistic notion" that smoking keeps smokers thin.

"These findings challenge the common misconception that smoking universally leads to weight loss, emphasising that the health risks associated with smoking, including an increased risk of abdominal adiposity or belly fat," he said.

So what advice do the researchers give to people looking to quit smoking while avoiding putting on weight?

"It is important to note that quitting smoking has numerous health benefits beyond potential changes in body fat distribution," Carrasquilla said. "So it's not only about your body fat in your abdomen."

He noted that his study reinforces the well-known body of research showing that smoking is bad for you.

"People who might be afraid of quitting smoking due to putting on weight might find these findings motivating to quit smoking," he added. "Because smoking increases this problematic internal fat, which is a risk factor for many diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic conditions."

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