By Margarita Nahapetyan
Scientists at Temple University have found that body-image therapy can be more effective than an exercise plan to help women not only keep their pounds at bay, but also to stay smoke-free.
One out of every five women between the ages of 18 and 24 years, smoke cigarettes, and the majority of these ladies say that they have no intention to quit because they do not want to gain weight. A significant number of college-age women are smoking in order to keep their weight under control and for body image reasons as well, and scientists assume that by providing them with the tools that will make them feel better about themselves, it could relieve some of those stress factors, said Melissa Napolitano, a clinical psychologist at Temple's Center for Obesity Research and Education.
In a two-phased study, Napolitano and her colleagues analyzed the smoking habits and weight gain of young women aged 18 to 24. In the first phase, psychologists gathered data from 5 focus groups with 43 women, in order to better understand their behavior associated with smoking. All women reported the need to cope with stress, peer pressure and weight control as a major reasons for their habit. In the second phase, 24 college-age female students were randomly assigned into two groups: a supervised group exercise program, or group counseling sessions which concentrated on body image. Women in both groups also were provided with a nicotine patch.
Eight weeks later, the body image counseling group had more than double the rate of smoking cessation compared to the exercise group, 18 per cent against 8 per cent, respectively. The participants in the body image counseling group were also found to lose three times more weight, compared to women in the exercise group -- 3.3 pounds against less than a pound.
"Smoking has psychological and psychosocial implications, especially for young women," said Napolitano who is also an associate professor of kinesiology and public health in the College of Health Professions. She said that the main goal of the study was to design such a program that would not only concentrate on the physical addiction by providing a nicotine patch, but would also address those social and behavioral factors as well.
Another interesting aspect of the program was that it relied on technology to reach their population of smokers. Information to the study participants was sent via e-mail and text messages, more often than through phone calls, per request of the young women themselves. Napolitano said that very often they tried to call participants on the phone in order to remind them of different sessions, and the women would send their replies back through text messages or e-mails. Therefore, the experts started using avenues such as SMS and the Internet not just as a way of communication with the participants, but for support as well.
Researchers said that the findings of this new study have laid the groundwork for larger future investigation at Temple University and nationwide that will focus on smoking cessation in college age women. The hope is to find out whether the results will continue to hold true in studies with larger numbers of participants.
The findings were presented last month at the Society for Behavioral Medicine's annual meeting in Montreal. The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute.