Smokers shouldn’t worry about the risks of weight gain from quitting smoking, based on a recent study that shows quitting smoking slashes heart attack risk, even in patients who gain weight.
For many smokers, kicking the habit may seem like a double-edged sword. While quitting drastically reduces risk for heart attack and stroke, it can also cause weight gain. Weight gain is a known risk factor for heart disease, and smokers may worry that gaining weight could be worse for their health than smoking. However, these fears are largely unfounded, based on results of a recent study published in the European Heart Journal.
This study, which analyzed data from a national Korean health registry, looked at the effects of weight gain after quitting smoking. It included more than 108,000 Korean men who were followed from 2006–2013. At the start of the study, 46% were smokers, 48% were non-smokers, and 6% had recently quit. Participants were 40 years or older and free of heart disease at the start of the study.
Between 2006 and 2013, researchers tracked participants’ weight, smoking status and heart events. Overall, there were 1,420 heart attacks and 3,913 strokes during the study period. Among recent quitters, 27% gained weight, 11% lost weight, while nearly two-thirds of participants maintained their weight over the study period.
The good news is that weight gain had little impact on participants’ risk of heart events. Overall, non-smokers had 63% lower risk of heart attack and 14% lower risk of stroke than current smokers. The same benefits were observed in recent quitters who gained weight over the study period.
The take-home message, according to authors, is that smokers should not put off quitting smoking for fear of gaining weight. In this study, less than one-third of smokers gained weight in the years after they quit. Findings suggest that weight gain did not take away from the health benefits of quitting.
However, given the study population, it’s important to note that findings can only be applied to middle-aged Korean men. Authors encourage similar research in a more diverse population that includes both men and women.