May 2013

Ex-Smokers Gain Health Benefits Despite Added Pounds

Quitting smoking can improve your heart health even if you gain a little weight, a new study suggests. The findings underscore the importance of putting a stop to smoking.

Cigarette smoking causes about 1 in 5 deaths nationwide each year. Smoking can harm nearly every organ in your body, including the heart, lungs, eyes and digestive organs. Cardiovascular and other health risks drop dramatically when smokers quit. But quitting can also lead to weight gain, and obesity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, including heart attack, stroke and heart failure. So health professionals wondered whether the weight gain might counteract the health benefits of quitting.

To learn more, NIH scientists and their colleagues analyzed data from more than 3,000 adults. People without diabetes who quit smoking had about half the risk of cardiovascular problems as those who smoked. A similar benefit was seen among people with diabetes. But the study didn’t have enough participants with diabetes to determine if this finding was due to chance.

Recent quitters gained about 6 pounds over a 4-year period. A smaller weight gain, about 2 pounds, was seen in smokers, nonsmokers and smokers who’d quit more than 4 years before. The researchers found that, despite gaining weight, participants who stopped smoking maintained their lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

“Our findings suggest that a modest weight gain, around 5 to 10 pounds, has a negligible effect on the net benefit of quitting smoking,” says study co-author Dr. Caroline S. Fox of NIH. The researchers plan to conduct follow-up studies to determine whether this finding holds among people with diabetes.