CHICAGO (AP) _ Some children may see smoking as a way to lose weight.

Youngsters who want to lose weight are more likely to experiment with cigarettes, researchers reported in the October issue of the journal Pediatrics. The study looked at more than 16,000 children, ages 9 to 14.

``In both boys and girls we found children who thought about (smoking) were more likely to be concerned about their weight,'' said one of the study's authors, Dr. Alison Field of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. ``And those who were doing something to lose weight were more likely to smoke than those who were not.''

Children 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 said.

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.