Weight Gain Vs. Continued Smoking

Smoking cessation weight gain better for heart than continuing to smoke

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Among smokers, a common reason to not quit is the fear of gaining weight. While weight gain is a serious concern, continuing to smoke is a greater concern.

A recent study followed a group of people for around 25 years to see if people who gained weight after quitting smoking had the same cardiovascular disease risks as smokers.

The results of the study showed people who quit smoking and gained as much as 13 pounds still had roughly half the risk of developing cardiovascular disease as people who kept smoking.

The authors recommended people quit smoking regardless of weight gain.

"Don’t avoid quitting because of weight gain."

Carole Clair, MD, MSc, from the Department of Ambulatory Care and Community Medicine at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, led a team of scientists in an investigation into the risks for cardiovascular disease from gaining weight after quitting smoking.

According to the authors, smokers in North America gain an average of six to 13 pounds within the first six months after quitting smoking. Smoking is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, but so is obesity.

The authors found a large group that was part of an existing study to test whether smoking or weight gain from quitting smoking was harder on the heart.

The Framingham Offspring Study from 1984 to 2011 provided the data for this study. The researchers checked for cardiovascular disease, smoking status and weight gain in the participants every four years.  

Cardiovascular related events included:

  • Coronary heart disease, a narrowing of blood vessels near the heart
  • Cerebrovascular events, restricted blood flow to the brain causing a stroke
  • Peripheral artery disease, restricted blood flow to arms and legs
  • Congestive heart failure, when the heart can’t pump enough blood throughout the body

Over the course of around 25 years, 3,251 participants had 631 cardiovascular disease-related events.

The study results showed that 6 percent of smokers without diabetes had a cardiovascular disease event. Only 3 percent of recent and long-term quitters and 2.4 percent of those who never smoked had an event.

The researchers considered someone to be a recent quitter if they had quit smoking in the past four years and a long-term quitter if they had quit more than four years ago. While recent smokers gained between four to 13 pounds, long-term quitters did not show more than a two-pound gain.

Patients with diabetes had an increased risk for cardiovascular disease in all categories. But even though the diabetic participants in the recent quitter category gained weight, they still dropped their risk for a cardiovascular event by nearly half. 

The authors concluded that despite weight gain, quitting smoking lowered the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

This study was published in March in JAMA.

The Swiss National Science Foundation, the SICPA Foundation, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases provided funding support for this project. Drs. Rigotti and Pencina reported having worked with pharmaceutical companies and/or smoking cessation organizations. No conflicts of interest were declared.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 12, 2013
Last Updated:
March 13, 2013