Quitting smoking definitively saves lives, but some people may be hesitant to kick the habit because of the prospect of weight gain, a new International Journal of Clinical Practice study suggests.
Researchers from the Penn State College of Medicine examined 186 smokers who sought treatment for quitting smoking (which was indicated by participation in a smoking cessation treatment study) and 102 smokers who avoided seeking treatment (which was indicated by not being interested in participating in the treatment study). All of the smokers in the study smoked at least five cigarettes a day.
The researchers asked the participants about past instances where they may have tried to quit smoking and gained weight in the process, as well as whether they were afraid of gaining weight when quitting in the future.
The fear of weight gain from quitting was equal among the treatment-seekers and the treatment-avoiders. However, past weight gain during a quit attempt seemed to influence the desire of smokers to seek treatment again.
About half of the participants had gained weight in a past quit-smoking attempt. Among these people, those who had high concerns about gaining weight were more likely to avoid quit-smoking treatment, researchers found.
Researchers said that doctors helping patients quit smoking should ask them about whether they had experienced weight gain in the past, and should reassure them that there are weight maintenance strategies that can be incorporated into their quit-smoking treatment.
Weight gain has long been associated with quitting smoking, with a 2012 study in the British Medical Journal showing that ex-smokers can gain around 10 pounds after they quit. Past research suggests the connection could lie in nicotine's ability to excite the brain cells that play a role in telling a person to stop eating when they feel full.
However, even with the weight gain, smokers who quit the habit have a lower risk of heart attack and stroke compared with current smokers, a 2013 JAMA study showed.