Behavioral therapy for weight concerns helps women quit smoking

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Last Updated: 2001-08-10 10:11:43 EDT (Reuters Health)

By Amy Norton

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – A novel smoking cessation program may boost women's chances of success while keeping weight gain to a minimum.

Women who smoke generally have a more difficult time quitting than men do, and it is thought that their concern about gaining weight is often an important reason. Women are about twice as likely as men to gain weight when they stop smoking, according to a report in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology for August.

So far, studies on combining weight control measures with smoking cessation have met with mixed results, Dr. Marsha D. Marcus, a co-author of the report, told Reuters Health.

Dr. Marcus and colleagues from the University of Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania, tested a different approach. Rather than encouraging women to diet while they tried to quit smoking, the researchers used behavioral therapy to ease women's weight concerns.

They randomized 219 women who wanted to quit smoking but were worried about weight gain into three groups. Over 7 weeks, one group received standard smoking cessation therapy, one received therapy plus dieting tips, and the third received standard treatment along with behavioral therapy.

After one year, smokers who received behavioral therapy were most likely to have remained abstinent from smoking. In total, 21% of them were still abstinent, compared with 13% of dieters and 9% of those in the standard program.

A particularly surprising finding, Dr. Marcus said, was that women who received behavioral therapy gained less weight than dieters–an average of 5.5 pounds versus 12 pounds. Women who received standard therapy had gained an average of 17 pounds at 1 year after treatment.

But women in the behavioral therapy group reported no reduction in their weight concerns, making the explanation for the results unclear. Dr. Marcus suggested that the therapy helped by emphasizing how much more destructive it would be to continue smoking than to put on "a few pounds." In contrast to the dieters, who were told to limit their snacks, women receiving behavioral therapy were told that they might need to snack to help them quit smoking.

Dr. Marcus also pointed out that most women in the study failed to stop smoking. "It's still tough to get women to quit," she said.

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