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By Peter Russell
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Sheena Meredith, MD
Aug. 21, 2015 -- A common fear among smokers is that they'll pile on the pounds if they quit the habit. But new research has found that heavy smokers are more likely to get pot bellies.
Scientists say that while people who light up may have better control of their overall weight, heavy tobacco use tends to push fat into central areas, resulting in a protruding tummy.
Having an "apple shape" is known to be less healthy than being "pear shaped." People with apple shapes have more weight in their waist and belly areas. People with pear shapes have more weight in their hips and thighs.
The researchers reviewed data from 29 studies involving 148,731 people with European ancestry who were either smokers, former smokers, or people who had never smoked. The information detailed the smoking habits of the volunteers, as well as their weight and waist circumference.
The analysis, published in the BMJ Open journal, revealed that some smokers had a genetic variation linked to smoking more and having a lower body mass index (BMI). But it also showed that while overall BMI in heavy smokers was lower, their waist circumference was higher than non-smokers once BMI was accounted for.
Professor Naveed Sattar, of the University of Glasgow, who helped lead the study, explains that while smoking lessens weight overall, it tends to push fat more into the belly area.
"If confirmed, a tendency for smokers to acquire an 'apple shape' might provide a novel health promotion message to encourage smoking cessation," he said.
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