Research shows it is possible to stop smoking and simultaneously lose weight

Friday 02 October 2020

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As research suggests that both smoking and obesity are risk factors for developing severe COVID-19 symptoms and other life-threatening diseases, there has never been a better time for people to stop smoking and manage their weight at the same time.

The research, led by Professor Deborah Lycett from Coventry University’s Centre for Intelligent Healthcare, shows it is not inevitable that smokers will gain weight when they stop smoking. Encouragingly, the study which was published in the BMJ Open, demonstrated that it is even possible, with support, for quitters to lose weight while they stop smoking.

In the study, 76 smokers were recruited to a randomised controlled trial, with all participants being offered access to NHS-commissioned Stop Smoking Services.  Of the 76 smokers, 37 were offered free membership to their local Slimming World group for 12 weeks, while the remaining 39 were only given access to stop smoking support services.

For the 17% of smokers in the trial who successfully managed to stop smoking, change in weight was analysed over time. Those who just focused on quitting were seen to gain weight steadily over time, whereas those who stopped smoking and simultaneously attended weight loss support groups, lost weight at each follow-up appointment. At 12 weeks those who had been supported at a slimming group had lost an average of 1.3kg. At 12 weeks there was a 2.3kg mean difference in weight between the quitters who attended a slimming group and those who did not.

It’s true that, without support, giving up smoking and managing your weight at the same time can be challenging. Your appetite and sense of taste comes back, and you can be so used to having something in your hand that you are tempted to reach for food instead of a cigarette.

The results of this trial showed weight gain isn’t an inevitable consequence of quitting though and, in fact, it is possible – with weight-management support – to lose weight whilst quitting.

Carolyn Pallister, Nutrition and Health Policy Manager at Slimming World

This is the first study, that we know of, to investigate referral to a weight loss provider during a stop smoking attempt. The results will be reassuring for those who want to stop smoking but are fearful of weight gain; there does seem to be a promising way to tackle both together.

This was a small study, however, so we have not proved definitively that losing weight whilst stopping smoking does not reduce your chances of quitting successfully. If you are a smoker, stopping smoking remains the single most important thing you can do for your health, even if you do put on a little weight.

Professor Deborah Lycett, Centre for Intelligent Healthcare, Coventry University

These findings are especially important as we enter Stoptober, the month-long NHS campaign to combat smoking addiction. The campaign, centred on a 28-day challenge, is supported by research that shows if a smoker can quit for 28 days, they are five times more likely to quit for good.