Member log in

Weight gain fears ease when smokers quit

New research smokers wanting to kick the habit needn’t be too worried about gaining a lot of weight.

The findings emerge from the University of Otago’s Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, which has closely followed the progress of around 1000 people born in Dunedin in 1972-73.

Smoking habits and weight were measured at regular intervals from 15-38 years old.  About one third of the group were smokers at age 21 and by age 38 around 40% of these people had quit.  

Over the 17-year follow up, the quitters’ weight returned to the same level as people of similar age who had never smoked.

Furthermore, they gained only a relatively small amount of weight – around 5kg – compared with people who carried on smoking. The findings were the same for both men and women.

Lindsay Robertson, who led the research, says some earlier research suggested people might gain large amounts of weight after quitting but many of these studies were not reliable.

“We hope that our findings will encourage people who are thinking about quitting,” she says. “They should not be put off by the fear of putting on large amounts of weight. It is important to be aware that a small weight gain is unlikely to offset the health benefits of quitting.”

The researchers also found that being a smoker did not prevent long-term weight gain. All groups in the Dunedin study tended to put on weight over time, regardless of their smoking status, Miss Robertson says. 

The study, "Smoking Cessation and Subsequent Weight Change," has been published online in Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

It was authored by Miss Robertson, Professor Rob McGee (Cancer Society Social and Behavioural Research Unit) and Associate Professor Bob Hancox (Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study) in the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine.

Comments and questions

The is always the option to go for a walk if you are worried about weight gain