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Smoking Cessation Health Center

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Quitting Smoking Doesn't Add Pounds

20-Year Study Shows Kicking the Habit Doesn't Cause Long-Term Weight Gain
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 14, 2006 (Chicago) -- If you're using fear of weight gain as an excuse to keep lighting up, you're in for a surprise.

Quitting smoking will not affect your weight over the long-term, researchers report.

"If you quit, you may gain an extra 4 to 5 pounds. Or, if you start, you may lose a few pounds. But it's only temporary," says researcher Samuel Gidding, MD, professor of pediatrics at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and outreach director at A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del.

Over the long term, people tend to gain similar amounts of weight regardless of race or sex, he tells WebMD.

Long-Term Weight Stable

For the study, presented at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association, researchers reviewed data from a long-term study examining how heart disease develops in adults.

Participants included more than 5,000 black and white men and women aged 18 to 30 when enrolled in 1986.

During seven exams over the next two decades, doctors measured the participants' body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight in relation to height. They also asked about smoking status.

The men and women were then divided into four groups for each exam interval: persistent smokers, never smokers, quitters, and starters. "From visit to visit, people could move from one group to another," Gidding says.

"What we found is that over the 20 years of the study, starter and quitter groups were really populated by the same people bouncing back and forth," says Gidding.

"Because they were ping-ponging back and forth, ultimately, smoking status had very little impact on weight," he says.

No More Excuses

The bottom line, Gidding says, is that a change in smoking status was associated with a rise in BMI, but those who continued to either smoke or not smoke gained weight at the same rate.

Elliott M. Antman, MD, an AHA spokesman and a heart specialist at Harvard Medical School, says this information will be useful in counseling patients.

"The weight issue is of particular concern to women, some of whom start smoking in an effort to control their weight, and others who are afraid to quit because they will put on extra pounds," he tells WebMD.

"Now I can turn to patients and say, 'Look, we have long-term data showing that is not the case. Smoking status has limited impact on body weight, so concerns about weight gain should not be used as an argument against cessation of smoking,'" Antman says.

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