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Do Kids Smoke To Stay Slim?

There may be many reasons that children begin smoking, but the latest cited by researchers may come as a surprise. A new study says children as young as nine are more likely to experiment with cigarettes because they think it helps them remain slim.

But the problem is not just with the girls, reports CBS News Correspondent Nick Young.

"Boys who were not overweight but thought that they were, were in fact 65 percent more likely than their peers to have thought about using tobacco," says one of the study's authors, Dr. Alison Field of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

The study, published in this month's issue of the journal Pediatrics, looked at more than 16,000 children, ages 9 to 14.

They were asked questions about their weight, including what, if anything, they were doing to lose weight. They were also asked if they smoked or considered smoking. About 6 percent of the youngsters were contemplating smoking cigarettes and 9 percent had smoked.

"Girls who were unhappy with their appearance were twice as likely to think about using tobacco," Field told The Associated Press.

The study did not directly ask the children if any actually smoked to lose weight, because "we didn't want them to think we were suggesting this is a way to lose weight," Field said. Instead, the youngsters were asked separate questions regarding weight loss and smoking.

Boys who exercised daily to lose weight were 90 percent more likely to have experimented with cigarettes than those who did not, Field said.

In 1993, the Journal of Clinical Investigation published a study that found moderate smoking helps the body burn fat. But the researchers also warned that smoking shouldn't be considered a substitute for dieting because it was a greater health risk than the added weight.

Dr. Michael Jellinek, the chief of child psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, said that although he doesn't believe the main reason children smoke is to lose weight, it is a factor.

"I think there is a tremendous amount of pressure to fit the societal stereotype of being very thin, and smoking fits into that," he said.