THE QUESTION When people quit smoking, their heart health improves. But most of the time, they also gain weight. Might the added pounds, which can increase the likelihood of heart problems, negate the benefits of quitting?
THIS STUDY analyzed data on 3,251 adults, who averaged 48 years old and had no signs of cardiovascular disease at the start of the study. Periodic physical examinations revealed 631 cases of cardiovascular disease developing in a 25-year span; in that time, the percentage of participants who smoked dropped from 31 to 13 percent. Those who had quit smoking most recently had gained the most weight — an average of six pounds in the four years after quitting, compared with an average three-pound gain in the same four years for nonsmokers. However, compared with people who continued to smoke, those who quit cut their risk for cardiovascular disease in half, regardless of how much weight they gained.
WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Adults who quit smoking. Studies have shown that about 80 percent of people who quit gain weight, but it’s not automatic: Increasing physical activity, limiting snacks and using nicotine-replacement products such as a patch, gum or lozenges can help keep weight gain in check. Besides improving heart health, quitting smoking improves breathing and lung health and reduces risk for cancer, stroke, osteoporosis and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
CAVEATS Data on smoking status came from information the participants provided during medical exams. Most participants were white; whether the findings apply to other races remains unclear.
FIND THIS STUDY March 13 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
LEARN MORE ABOUT weight control and smoking cessation at www.niddk.nih.gov (search in Publications for “quit smoking”). Learn about the health benefits of quitting at www.
cancer.gov (search for “harms of smoking”).
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.