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Scientists Debate the Connection Between Quitting Smoking and Obesity


HOST INTRO: America has become more obese over the years because people stopped smoking – this is according to a new study from Georgia State University and the National Bureau of Economic Research. Since the 1960s the percentage of smokers has declined by more than 20%. But over the same time period, obesity in the U.S. has increased by about the same percentage. Shandukani Mulaudzi reports.

MULAUDZI 1: We all know smoking is bad for us but research shows when you stop smoking you want to eat more. So you will gain weight because the nicotine in cigarettes suppresses your appetite and increases your metabolism. Professor Charles Courtemanche teaches economics at Georgia State University. He is one of the co-authors of the new study. He says the amount of weight people gain when they quit smoking, isn’t being taken seriously enough.

COURTEMANCHE 1: it seems like it’s been treated like a, you know not really that big of a deal. You quit smoking at all costs and if you gain weight you gain weight and it probably won’t be that much and you’ll probably lose it anyway. (0.12)

MULAUDZI 2: Before Courtemanche’s study, researchers agreed – if you quit smoking you WILL gain weight. But only about 6 to 8 pounds and that weight gain would be temporary. But Courtemanche says actually quitters gain more – an average of 11 pounds – and that weight isn’t going away.

COURTEMANCHE 2: Biggest difference is that effect persists and actually gets larger after 5 years. (0.09)

MULAUDZI 3: He says quitters who overeat raised the country’s obesity by 14%. But some obesity experts are not convinced. Dr Richard WEIL is the Director of the Weight Loss Program at Mount Sinai St Luke’s Hospital in Morningside Heights.

WEIL 1: The rise in obesity is so multifactorial it sounds a little high to me. (0.10)

MULAUDZI 4: That means obesity has many causes like genetics, the environment and of course – the food we eat. Dr Peter HENDRICKS is a clinical psychologist and teaches addiction and health behavior at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Hendricks disagrees with Courtemache’s study.

HENDRICKS 1: The average smoker weighs around 6 to ten pounds less than the average non-smoker. (0.08)

MULAUDZI 3: Hendricks says smokers skinnier than non-smokers anyway so 11 pounds won’t make them obese. But Courtemanche says 11 pounds is just an average – people who quit could gain anywhere up to 22 pounds. Dr. Donna SHELLEY is the director of NYC Treats Tobacco at NYU Langone Medical Center. She says you cannot expect smokers to quit AND ALSO put them on a strict diet.

SHELLEY 2: There’s no question that if you try and change two behaviours at the same time you’re gonna fail probably at both of them. (0.05)

MULAUDZI 4: Dr Hendricks worries people will misconstrue the findings of this study.

HENDRICKS 2: This in some ways could be interpreted as ‘it’s not that we don’t exercise, it’s not that we’re eating the wrong food, it’s that we stopped smoking. (0.06)

MULAUDZI 5: Although experts disagree on the findings of this study there’s one thing they agree on – smoking is bad for you and so is obesity. Shandukani Mulaudzi, Columbia Radio News.


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