Teenage girls often smoke cigarettes, recognizing that it protects them from the impulse to binge eat with its feared weight-gain consequences. Evidence is marshalled from our studies of a female eating-disordered population, teenage females (London, U.K. and Ottawa, Canada) and middle-aged women (London and rural England) in the general population. Teenage female data analysis reveals links between smoking and body-weight/shape concerns. Those who smoked were likely to be moderately overweight. Smoking was also related at all ages to being postmenarchal. Sensitivity to shape is largely and qualitatively prompted by the development of body fat in puberty. Smoking by the London schoolgirls in particular also independently revealed an association with greater weight loss since puberty. Smoking was powerfully linked with vomiting undertaken as another defence against weight gain and may also be further reinforced as a behaviour by it. The eating-disordered population showed these latter associations most strikingly. Since smoking amongst older women is associated with below average body-weight it may indeed be effective in curbing weight gain and therefore promoting desired weight loss. Our studies provide little evidence of association between smoking and generalized or social anxiety. We propose that preventative psychological approaches to teenage female smoking should include attention to these matters.
Copyright 1999 The Association for Professionals in Services for Adolescents.