Quitting Smoking Benefits Cardiovascular Health, Despite Weight Gain

In the first epidemiological study that looked directly at the impact of weight gain on people who quit smoking, a study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) discovered that cardiovascular health improved after a person quit smoking, even if the former smoker experienced a modest gain in weight. The study reported that former smokers that did not have diabetes had almost half the chance to develop cardiovascular disease (CVD) as current smokers, and the risk level did not change even when former smokers gained weight as a result of their quitting smoking. The study could not, however, conclusively determine the role of modest weight gain in former smokers with diabetes, although the data suggested a similar trend. The study results were published in the March 13, 2013, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study analyzed data collected from 3,251 participants enrolled in the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s (NHLBI) Framingham Heart Study during the period of 1984 to 2011. Participants in the Framingham Heart Study received periodic medical exams that researchers used to calculate changes in weight and smoking status. The participants were grouped into those with diabetes and those without, and further grouped into four smoking categories: smokers, non-smokers, recent quitters (those who quit for four years or less), and long-term quitters (those quit for more than four years). The researchers analyzed the data for cardiovascular problems such as coronary heart disease, stroke or heart failure in each group.

CVD is one of the main causes of death and serious illness in the United States. One of the goals of the Framingham Heart Study is to identify factors or characteristics that influence CVD and track the development of CVD over time in a large number of people. The Framingham Heart Study’s impact and influence has been significant in the identification of CVD risk factors and their effects on blood pressure, blood triglyceride and cholesterol levels, age, gender, and psychosocial issues.