Does Weight Gain from Quitting Outweigh Risk of Smoking?

When one quits smoking, the first concern is usually, “I know I’ll gain weight.” While this in itself is certainly no reason to postpone dropping a bad habit, the correlation with developing diabetes left many quitters hesitant.

What do the studies say?

However, a new study shows the risk of developing diabetes from “Quitter’s Weight Gain,” is not a permanent one. In fact, even if one gains significant weight, the risk of early death is still reduced, according to the study. The study was published in the August 16 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, with senior researcher Dr. Qi Sun, an associate professor of nutrition with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

Sun’s team analyzed 19 years of data from three studies regarding links between health and lifestyle. A total of 171,000 men and women in the United States completed questionnaires every two years regarding their smoking habits and weight gain.

Those who gained more than 22 pounds after quitting still saw a 67 percent decrease in heart disease risk, despite a 59 percent chance of developing diabetes. Overall, there was still a 50 percent decrease in the risk of early death. In addition, the added risk of diabetes was a temporary one, peaking around five to seven years after quitting, and decreasing over time. “Even though there’s a short-term increased risk of developing diabetes, the long-term benefits regarding cardiovascular health are very clear,” Sun stated.

outline smoking cigarette to demonstrate health effects
The health benefits of quitting cigarettes are tremendous.

What does it mean?

Put simply, the study puts in perspective just how dangerous smoking is. Doctors frequently caution about the effects of weight gain on our health, just as they caution us against risk factors of diabetes. However, we now see that smoking is more dangerous than either of these “silent killers,” we are so often cautioned about by doctors.

Of course, not everyone who quits gains weight, so some quitters can really reap the benefits. While the average quitter had a 22 percent higher risk of diabetes, the risk was directly linked with weight gain, meaning no higher risk was found among those who didn’t gain weight. Sun suggests when quitting, to add better habits such as healthy eating and improved physical activity. This helps one stay ahead of any weight gain risks, so the benefits of being a non-smoker can finally be realized.

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