Quitting smoking cuts your risk of heart disease even if you gain some weight, new study suggests

Breaking the habit

No Smoking Day saw the publication of a study which is encouraging for those smokers who’ve taken the first steps in quitting but are worried about weight gain. A lot of people find they put on weight when they give up smoking, something I’ve blogged about before (you can find it here), and it raises the question whether the health risks associated with extra weight cancel out the health gains of not smoking. This is the question addressed in this new study and the findings suggest they don’t.

The study involved part of the Framingham Offspring cohort of 5124 people who have been examined every four to six years since 1971. For this bit of the study, 3251 adults without heart disease were weighed, asked about smoking and their medical records reviewed for any kind of heart disease, every four to six years, through to December 2011. People with diabetes were considered separately and everyone was divided into four groups according to their smoking history: smokers, non-smokers, recent quitters (within the last four years) and long-term quitters (over four years).

Here are some of the key findings:

  • People without diabetes who stopped smoking had a lower risk of heart problems than smokers and weight gain that followed quitting smoking did not change this
  • When people’s age and sex was taken into account, long-term quitters had around half the risk of heart problems as smokers
  • There were not enough people with diabetes in the study to be sure that the same was true for them
  • People who had recently quit smoking gained the most weight; on average 2.7kg for people without diabetes and 3.6kg for people with diabetes
  • 4 year weight gain was seen in people with and without diabetes
  • No clear trend in weight gain over time was seen for recent quitters but for long-term quitters weight gain decreased over time
  • Smokers had a higher incidence of diabetes compared to non-smokers and long-term quitters
  • There were more heart problems among smokers, followed by recent quitters, long-term quitters and non-smokers
  • The more people smoked the higher their risk of heart problems

This study followed people over a long time; the researchers made adjustments for factors which can affect people’s risk of heart disease (such as alcohol consumption), which helps to make the finding more reliable. Information about smoking may not be entirely accurate, as it relied on what people remembered and told the researchers. There were very few black and minority ethnic people in the study so the results may not apply to a multiethnic population.

So the main message to any of you who have quit smoking or are thinking of quitting, don’t worry about putting on a bit of extra weight. If this study is right, it won’t increase your risk of heart disease and you’ll have started lowering your risk by throwing away the fags. Stick at it!


Clair C, Rigotti NA, Porneala B, Fox CS, D’Agostino RB, Pencina MJ, Meigs JB. Association of Smoking Cessation and Weight Change With Cardiovascular Disease Among Adults With and Without DiabetesJAMA. 2013;309(10):1014-1021. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.1644


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Sarah Chapman

My name is Sarah Chapman. I have worked on systematic reviews and other types of research in many areas of health for the past 17 years, for the Cochrane Collaboration and for several UK higher education institutions including the University of Oxford and the Royal College of Nursing Institute. I also have a background in nursing and in the study of the History of Medicine.

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