By Xantha Leatham Deputy Science Editor For The Daily Mail

Published: | Updated:

Some of the world’s most famous supermodels have been pictured with cigarette in hand.

And the worry of gaining weight is a common excuse for smokers not to quit.

But a new study suggests smoking actually increases belly fat – especially the kind found deep inside the abdomen that is linked to a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and dementia.

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen combined the results of different genetic studies involving more than a million people.

Smokers generally have a low body weight, but they have a higher amount of visceral fat – the type that accumulates around the organs and increases the risk of chronic disease

They looked at whether people who had genes linked to smoking tended to have different body fat distributions to non-smokers.

Analysis revealed that starting to smoke, and smoking over a lifetime, was linked to an increase in belly fat.

This was most likely to be visceral fat, they said, which wraps around the abdominal organs, rather than subcutaneous fat which sits just under the skin.

Visceral fat is hard to see – you can have a flat stomach and still have unhealthy amounts of it, raising your risk of serious illness.

Lead author Dr Germán Carrasquilla said: ‘The influence of smoking on belly fat seems to happen regardless of other factors such as socioeconomic status, alcohol use, ADHD, or how much of a risk-taker someone is.

Supermodel Kate Moss is famous for her longstanding affection for cigarettes and enviable slim figure

‘From a public health point of view, these findings reinforce the importance of large-scale efforts to prevent and reduce smoking in the general population, as this may also help to reduce abdominal visceral fat and all the chronic diseases that are related to it.

‘Reducing one major health risk in the population will, indirectly, reduce another major health risk.’

The study, published in the journal Addiction, reads: ‘Smoking prevention and cessation are critical for public health efforts to reduce the incidence of several chronic disorders, particularly respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

‘However, smoking cessation is often associated with weight gain, which can decrease motivation for sustained cessation and undermine the health benefits.

‘Even though smokers generally have a lower body weight they tend to possess more abdominal fat than non-smokers, elevating their risk for cardiometabolic diseases.’

The researchers concluded that ‘efforts to prevent and cease smoking can have the added benefit of reducing abdominal fat’.

Figures suggest there are currently around 28.3 million adult cigarette smokers in the US, with numbers declining in the last decade.

Previous studies have found that nicotine, the active ingredient in cigarettes, suppresses appetite and increases metabolism.

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