It’s normal for people who’ve just quit smoking to gain weight. Being overweight or obese can lead to diabetes, and both smoking and diabetes are risk factors for heart attacks and strokes. So, it seems like there are also health risks to quitting smoking. But according to a new study, the health benefits of quitting smoking far outweigh the risks that come with gaining a few extra pounds.
Smoking tobacco suppresses appetite and increases your metabolism. When you quit smoking, your appetite and metabolism return to normal, which may lead you to eat more and burn fewer calories. Taste and smell also improve so food might become more appealing once you quit smoking.
A 2015 study found that the amount of weight gain following smoking cessation depends on the number of cigarettes a person puts off. Heavy smokers and those who were obese before taking on smoking are especially vulnerable, gaining up to 10kg (22 pounds) on average after quitting.
Researchers at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston wanted to see which is worse for people with diabetes: the weight gain from quitting smoking or all the cardiovascular problems arising from smoking itself? They analyzed data from two previous studies, including 10,895 men and women with diabetes.
Compared to individuals with diabetes who continued smoking, those who quit experienced a significantly lower risk for heart attacks, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases. The risk for cardiovascular disease was 34% lower among recent quitters (six or fewer years since quitting) without weight gain, 25% lower among long-term quitters (more than six years since smoking cessation), and 41% lower among never-smoking adults with diabetes. Those who gained up to 5kg (11 pounds) after quitting smoking saw no increase in the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
“Weight gain concerns should not stop people from being encouraged to quit smoking after they’re diagnosed with diabetes. And for those who do quit, preventing excessive weight gain would further maximize the health benefits of smoking cessation,” said Gang Liu, lead author of the study.
People who have just quit smoking are advised to exercise often, make wiser food choices (smaller portions and limiting sweets and alcohol), and work with a dietitian for personalized weight management support.
The findings were presented this week at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention: Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions 2019. A second study presented at this conference investigated the link between cognitive decline and smoking. Researchers at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore found that compared to individuals who never smoked, those who smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 25 years or more had twice as severe signs of cognitive impairment — such as poorer performance of memory, reasoning, and other mental functions.
Tibi is a science journalist and co-founder of ZME Science. He writes mainly about emerging tech, physics, climate, and space. In his spare time, Tibi likes to make weird music on his computer and groom felines.