Views mixed on smoking and obesity

March 19, 2004|by TAMELA BAKER

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that complications resulting from obesity had caused nearly as many deaths in the United States as health problems associated with smoking.

While smoking still was the leading contributor to preventable deaths, the agency attributed more than nine times as many deaths in 2000 to poor nutrition and inactivity than to automobile accidents.

Tri-State area residents had a little trouble Thursday deciding which is more dangerous to human health - smoking or obesity.

"I'd have to say smoking. It's not fun watching your relatives die from that," said Debra LeBeau, 52, of Newburg, Pa. She said she lost her father to lung cancer, which prompted her to quit smoking years ago.


Obesity, said Frank Sacchi, 62, of Hagerstown, is "coming up to be second I think it's true; it's just as bad" as smoking.

"I think that's probably true," added Pat D'Angelo, 68, of Smithsburg. "They're both deadly."

"I don't smoke so I guess it's the other," said Charles Embly, 74, of Hagerstown.

But Dennis Nelson, 57, of Falling Waters, W.Va., had a definite opinion - almost.

"Smoking," he said. "Of course, if you stop smoking you get obese so you're dead either way."

Smoking is worse for one's health because there is "no potentially redeeming value to smoking," said Leela Noronha, 32, of Shepherdstown, W.Va. One must eat to survive, Noronha said.

"I would probably have to say smoking, but I'm not overweight, so I don't know about that," said Mike Eyler, 44, of Waynesboro, Pa., a former smoker.

Robert Ritenour, 48, of Charles Town, W.Va., said smoking is worse than obesity. The addictiveness of smoking, not to mention all the dangerous chemicals that are inhaled when a cigarette is smoked, make it a much more life-threatening issue, said Ritenour.

"Food has no comparison to smoking," Ritenour said.

"I would say obesity," countered Christy Hixon, 32, of Clear Spring. "It affects more of your body - your knees and your feet."

But the mother of three suggested another factor that could affect half the population: "Motherhood has more of an effect on your body," she said.

Without being able to study statistics associated with obesity and smoking, Steven Cotterill said he would not be able to say which one is worse.

Cotterill, 38, of Charles Town, said he is not going to be convinced that obesity is a problem "just because the government says it is."

Barbara Hill, 52, of Waynesboro, said there has been more attention focused lately on the impact of obesity on health, but said she still believes smoking is more harmful "because that affects so many other people.

"I think it's a matter of what genes you've got and how you metabolize" food, she said of obesity. Both smoking and obesity drive up health care costs for everyone, she said.

"I'd have to consult my family history before I'd answer," said Randall E. Rotz, 55, of Chambersburg, Pa.

Someone with a family history of cancer may be more concerned with cancer while those whose families have a history of heart disease may think obesity is the greater risk, he said.

"Probably obesity would be worse for me, personally," he said, noting a history of diabetes in this family.

Smoking is worse than obesity because smoking is "something foreign that was not meant for your body," said Marvin Furby, 41, of Charles Town. Obesity is increasing because people work at jobs that require less physical activity, said Furby, adding that people are eating about the same amount of food as they always have.

Sonya Marsh of Hagerstown, who identified herself as a senior citizen, said smoking was worse, but obesity was bad, too. And hard to avoid.

"It's all out there and it's inviting," she said.

"I think they're both equally bad for about the same reason," said John Fignar, 31, of Greencastle, Pa. Smoking affects the lungs and heart and obesity taxes the heart and circulatory system, he said.

"If the blood can't flow, it's time for you to go," Fignar said.

Smoking is worse, said Richard Thomas, 48, of Inwood, W.Va., who said obesity is often an end-result of trying to kick the tobacco habit.

But Margaret McCauley, 65, of Hagerstown, had it down to a science. Whether obesity is worse than smoking, she said, "depends on how big you are."

Staff writers Don Aines and Dave McMillion contributed to this story.

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