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Quit Smoking, Help Heart: Even if You Gain Weight

Long-term study shows cardiac-health benefits in kicking the habit despite added pounds

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Amy Norton

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, March 12 (HealthDay News) -- Even though many smokers fear the weight gain that often comes with quitting, a new study suggests those extra pounds won't undo the health benefits of kicking the habit.

The study, of more than 3,200 U.S. adults, found that former smokers cut their risk of heart disease and stroke in half. And it did not matter if they gained weight after quitting.

"This gives reassurance to smokers that the benefits of quitting still far outweigh any small health risks that may come with weight gain," said Dr. Michael Fiore, founder of the Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Research suggests that half of women and one-quarter of men who smoke worry about gaining weight if they try to quit.

"Weight gain is a common reason people cite for not quitting," said Fiore, who co-wrote an editorial that accompanied the study in the March 13 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The fear of weight gain may or may not be for health reasons, of course. Some smokers want to avoid extra pounds because of "cosmetic" concerns, said Dr. James Meigs, the senior author on the study and a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital.

But when it comes to cardiovascular health, Meigs added, the new findings show that weight gain is no excuse to resist quitting.

Fiore agreed. "Quitting is the best thing you can do for your health," he said.

The findings are based on 3,251 adults taking part in the Framingham Offspring Study, a long-term offshoot of the Framingham Heart Study. Within the time frame used, 1984 to 2011, the participants had health exams about every four years; at the outset, 31 percent were smokers, but by the last exam, that had dropped to 13 percent.

Over the study period, 631 people suffered a heart attack, stroke, heart failure or clogged leg arteries, or died from a cardiovascular cause. But former smokers had only half the risk of current smokers, even if they'd gained weight. And typically, they had gained weight -- an average of 5 to 10 pounds in the few years after quitting.

"So the message is, yes, you can expect to gain weight in the first few years after quitting," Meigs said. "But you'll still cut your risk of cardiovascular disease in half."

The researchers also zeroed in on study participants with diabetes, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. They found that people who'd kicked the smoking habit had a similar risk reduction as former smokers without diabetes. But the finding was not statistically significant, which means it could be due to chance.

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