Quitting is the single best thing you can do to improve your health. However many smokers use the “smokers’ excuse” that any benefit of quitting, would be offset by the weight gained. Research shows this “excuse” to be invalid.(3)
Smoking and obesity are the leading causes of disease (morbidity) and death (mortality) worldwide. Studies show that the life expectancy of obese smokers was thirteen years less than that of normal-weight non-smokers.(1)
Most health care providers agree that the decrease in morbidity and mortality associated with stopping smoking far outweighs the health risks associated with potential weight gain after quitting.(2)
Increasing evidence shows that smoking affects body fat distribution and is associated with central obesity and a decrease in the effectiveness of insulin in lowering the blood sugar levels (insulin resistance).(1,2) Smokers have a higher percentage of fat around the body’s organs compared to total fat and consequently a higher waist-to-hip ratio than non-smokers – a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.(2)
Short-term effects of nicotine and weight
- In the short term, nicotine increases energy expenditure (metabolic rate), which makes the body burn calories faster, and can also reduce the appetite (appetite suppressant). This may explain why smokers tend to have a lower body weight than non-smokers and why stopping smoking is frequently followed by weight gain.(1)
- However, in contrast, heavy smokers tend to have a greater body weight than do light smokers or non-smokers. This is likely to reflect their low degree of physical activity, poor diet and smoking – all conducive to weight gain.(1)
Why do you gain weight after you stop smoking?
- Weight gain after stopping smoking is mostly due to a decreased metabolic rate, less appetite suppression resulting in increased caloric intake. This is the opposite effect to those produced by nicotine.(2)
- The loss of the metabolic boost and appetite suppression conferred by nicotine is often accompanied by increased caloric intake but no increase in physical activity.(2)
- The amount of weight gained after quitting smoking is highly variable.(1)
- Long- term quitters reported weight gain of 4,4 kilograms (men) and 5 kilograms (women) more than continuous smokers did in the 10 years after they quit. However, a study showed that the mean weight gain attributable to stopping smoking was 2,8 kilograms (men) and 3,8 kilograms (women).(1)
- Weight gain after stopping smoking was greater in previously heavy smokers than in light smokers and was less pronounced at a greater number of years since stopping smoking.(1)
- Weight gain after quitting could be prevented with dietary intervention and programmes aimed at increasing physical activity in combination with dietary management and nicotine replacement therapy.(1,2)
The bottom line
- Nicotine is delivered via cigarette smoke which is extraordinarily toxic, resulting in the premature death of half of those who are lifelong smokers.(2)
- Weight gain is not an inevitable consequence of giving up smoking.(3)
- Smoking is not an efficient way to control body weight, does not help prevent obesity, could favour fat accumulation around the body’s organs and increase the risk of metabolic syndrome, diabetes (1) and cardiovascular disease.(3)
- The priority is to give up smoking rather than worrying about weight gain.(3)
- Weight gain presents a minor health risk when compared to the substantial risks of continued smoking.(4)
- Being healthy entails a lot more than how much you weigh. Improved lung function and some other health benefits of giving up smoking are likely to make exercise both easier and more beneficial.(4)
1. Chiolero A, Faeh D, Paccaud F, Cornuz J. Consequences of smoking for body weight, body fat distribution, and insulin resistance. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87:801-9.
2. Audrain-McGovern J, Benowitz NL. Cigarette Smoking, Nicotine, and Body Weight. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2011;90(1):164-69.
3. NHS choices. Quitting smoking benefits outweigh weight gain risks. [Internet]; March 2013 [cited 2013 May 27]. Available from: http://www.nhs.uk/news/2013/03March/Pages/Quitting-smoking-benefits-outweigh-weightgain-risk
4. Action on smoking and health. ASH Factsheets: Stopping smoking: the benefits and aids to quitting. [Internet]; December 2012 [cited 2013 Apr 5]. Available from: http://www.ash.org.uk/files/documents/ASH_116.pdf
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