People who are obese more likely to smoke – WHO

A new research indicates that people who are genetically prone to being overweight have a higher risk of taking up smoking, WHO scientists said.

According to Dr Paul Brennan, a genetic epidemiology expert with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), obese people are also likely to smoke more than average. Brennan said around 70 genes have been identified for the first time that could explain this behaviour.

The study is being published in the British Medical Journal, and funded by Cancer Research UK. It found that increased body mass index (BMI), body fat percentage and even waist circumference, were associated with “a higher risk of being a smoker, and with greater smoking intensity, measured by the number of cigarettes smoked per day”.

“Based on genetic markers of obesity, the study allows us to better understand the complex relationship between obesity and important smoking habits,” said Brennan, one of the authors of the study.

He added that the study showing the relationship between body mass and smoking, also suggested that there was possibly a “common biological basis for addictive behaviours, such as nicotine addiction and higher energy intake”.

Brennan also noted that in understanding the link better, it could also be useful as a tool in helping people to stop smoking – a habit that kills more than seven million people each year, according to WHO.

“It is well established that smokers have a lower body weight on average than non-smokers, possibly due to reduced appetite, but that many gain weight after they stop smoking.

“However, among smokers, those who smoke more intensively, tend to weigh more,” IARC said.

IARC Director, Dr Christopher Wild, said that “prevention of smoking is key to reducing the global burden of cancer and other chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes”.

Wild added that obesity was among the most important preventable causes of those chronic illnesses.

“These new results provide intriguing insights into the potential benefits of jointly addressing these risk factors,”


Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. BMI is a calculation that takes a person’s weight and height into account. Studies show that there is a rise in obesity levels due to modern trends of lifestyle choices and this increases the dangers of obesity in children and also adults.

However, BMI does have some limitations. According to the CDC, “Factors such as age, sex, ethnicity, and muscle mass can influence the relationship between BMI and body fat. Also, BMI does not distinguish between excess fat, muscle, or bone mass, nor does it provide any indication of the distribution of fat among individuals.” Despite these limitations, BMI continues to be widely used as an indicator of excess weight.

You can reduce your risk of becoming obese by doing the following:

  1. Eat more fruit, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains.
  2. Exercise, even moderately, for at least 30 minutes a day.
  3. Cut down your consumption of sugary foods and fats
  4. Use vegetable-based oils rather than animal-based fats.

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