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Smokers told they can stop and still keep weight down

The new anti-smoking campaign downplays the risks of gaining weight by kicking the habit

Physical activity and a proper diet are the two not-so-secret tips for keeping under control the inevitable increase in weight among smokers who have decided to give up the habit.

At a news conference in Berne on Tuesday to mark the start of a campaign leading up to World No-Smoking Day on May 31, the organisers pointed out that while former smokers can expect to gain weight, a fitness program and dietary counselling helps to keep weight gain down.

The Swiss Association for the Prevention of Tobacco Abuse, one of the organisers of the campaign, said that fears of gaining weight should not be an obstacle to give up smoking.

Studies in the German-speaking part of Switzerland by the Institute for Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Berne, show that on average former smokers gained around two kilos over an 18-month period. This compares to results of international studies showing weight gains of five to six kilos in two years.

Professor Bernard Marti, the director of the Sports Sciences Institute at Macolin in canton Bern, said that one of the reasons for weight gain is the lower metabolic rate in the individual who stops smoking. This means that the body uses up less calories. Physical activity, while not a miracle cure against weight gain, is an important factor for keeping it under control, he said.

As far as diet is concerned, a smoker who is "on the wagon" need not hold back from anything, says dietician, Maaike Kruseman.

"They can eat anything they like, but always within reason. The biggest failure rates occur among people who avoid the food that they really like because they're afraid that they're going to gain weight. That's probably the biggest cause of binge eating."

Dr Jean-François Etter of the Geneva University Medical Center, warned that smokers are usually underweight and this can lead to health risks. But the bodies of smokers who stop make up this deficit, readjusting to the normal weight of people in that age group.

by Paul Sufrin


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