Obesity vs Smoking: Which is Worse?

Most people are aware that smoking causes cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other disorders. Over the past several decades, the media have extensively covered the medical problems associated with nicotine and tobacco. However, since 2005, obesity is now killing people at a higher rate than smoking.

Statistically speaking, obesity is also more damaging to a person’s health than immoderate alcohol consumption or even living in poverty. Extreme obesity increases your risk of suffering from strokes, heart disease, and various forms of cancer. It also makes it likelier that you will acquire type 2 diabetes.

In short, if you’re 30 years old and morbidly obese, it’s as though you have the body of an average 50-year-old. If you’re morbidly obese and a smoker, it is even worse for you and you are causing even more harm to your health.

A Growing Problem

First, to define terms, your body mass index (BMI) is a ratio of your weight to your height, and it’s a number that determines whether your weight is ideal. An obese person has a BMI that’s more than 30, and a morbidly obese person’s BMI is at least 40.

For decades, smoking has killed more people than obesity. In the year 2000, for instance, 18.1 percent of deaths in the United States could be attributed to tobacco usage, and 16.6 percent were connected to obesity. Nowadays, though, obesity represents the greater threat to public health.

A new study published in the journal PLOS Medicine found that compared with people with normal weight, obese individuals are likely to die 6.5 to 13.7 years earlier. Individuals with BMI of 44 to 44.9 reduce their life expectancy by 6.5 years on average while those whose BMI were between 45 and 49.9 are at risk of dying 8.9 years earlier.

What makes obesity such a significant problem? For starters, processed foods that are high in fat and sugar are now very prevalent. Additionally, sedentary lifestyles have become common. Indeed, partly due to the pervasiveness of computers and other electronic entertainment devices, many people just aren’t getting enough exercise these days.


Obesity vs. Tobacco, Alcohol, and Poverty

Today, obesity is more widespread than poverty, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity affects almost 35 percent of American adults, and that number is climbing. Especially alarming, about 33 percent of people in the U.S. aged 2 to 19 are overweight.

Meanwhile, approximately 14 percent of Americans are impoverished, 19 percent smoke daily and 6 percent could be classified as heavy alcohol drinkers.

Obesity is also the most serious problem out of the 4. A RAND research study examined the comparative effects of obesity, smoking, heavy drinking, and poverty on chronic health conditions and found Obesity is linked to a big increase in chronic health conditions and significantly higher health expenditures.

At the same time, awareness of the obesity issue’s severity is comparatively low to smoking, heavy drinking or poverty. Public health initiatives that specifically target it are scarce. Yet government policies aimed at other health threats have been in place for years. Consider, for example, how smoking is banned in many public buildings in the U.S.

An extensive campaign promoting exercise and healthy foods could probably make a strong impact like banning smoking did. Anti-smoking campaigns have been really effective in exposing the dangers associated with cigarettes. Having a similar approach geared toward unhealthy lifestyle choices would be as beneficial too.

Obesity vs. Smoking Medical Expenses

Obesity can take a major financial toll on people. If you’re obese, you probably pay more money for your medications and health care than those who smoke every day or drink heavily on a regular basis. In fact, an obese person’s medical costs, excluding medications, are about 36 percent higher than those of someone of average weight.

By contrast, an individual who smokes daily faces medical costs that are only 21 percent higher. On top of that, the cost of medications for an obese person is 77 percent higher. Altogether, in the U.S., $147 billion of annual medical expenditures can be attributed to obesity. For its part, smoking is responsible for around $97 billion.


Obesity And Smoking

Many people, including people that are obese believe that smoking can lead to weight loss because nicotine causes a curb your appetite and also lowers insulin levels in the bloodstream which can reduce cravings for sugary foods. A recent study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), part of the National Institutes for Health, actually found to opposite is true for people that are morbidly obese.

Cigarettes can actually raise the BMI of those who are morbidly obese.
The study indicated that being extremely obese and a smoker can lead to a higher BMI, additional abdominal fat and higher fat percentage compared to those who are extremely obese and non-smokers. Thus smoking while you are obese just adds to the problem that already exist.

Furthermore, these results affect more male obese smokers than female obese smokers. Male smokers were found to weighed more and had larger waists and fat percentages than females. For females, the only significant finding was a greater muscle mass and higher BMI in smokers compared to non smokers.

Thus, an extremely obese male smoker should quit using all tobacco products as soon as possible. Society as a whole should dispel the myth that tobacco is an effective appetite suppressant for people who are battling extreme obesity.

Being obese and a smoker is the riskiest and detrimental health choice you can make.


Obesity now is as deadly if not even more deadly than smoking. Putting on a few extra pounds can really have a dramatic impact on your health and your medical expenses. Yet obesity is a continued growing problem and is more widespread than poverty, smoking and even heavy drinking. Public health initiatives that specifically target obesity are needed and the belief that smoking while obese can help you lose weight need to be disbanded. Being obese and smoking can have the worse health effects for you and people that are obese and smoke need to be consulted with right away about the dangers it causes. Obesity is a serious issue and more needs to be done to figure out how we got here and how we can make the situation improve.