PTSD in Women

Nov 23, 2013
PTSD Symptoms Associated with Weight Gain and Obesity in Women

Women who experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms appear to have an increased risk of becoming overweight or obese, according to a study by Laura D. Kubzansky, Ph.D., of the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, and colleagues.

Numerous studies have documented associations between obesity and various forms of psychological stress, according to the study background. PTSD indicates a chronic stress reaction in response to trauma and has been identified as a possible risk factor for obesity.

Researchers analyzed a subset of The Nurses’ Health Study II, an observational study initiated in 1989 with follow-up through 2005 (54, 224 participants, ages 24 to 44 years old in 1989), using a PTSD screener to measure PTSD symptoms and time of onset. They assessed changes in body mass index (BMI) during follow-up among women who reported PTSD symptoms at baseline.

BMI increased more steeply in women during follow-up who reported at least four PTSD symptoms before the 1989 baseline. Among women who developed PTSD symptoms in 1989 or later, the BMI trajectory did not differ by PTSD status before PTSD onset.

After PTSD symptom onset, women with at least four symptoms had a faster rise in BMI. And the onset of at least four PTSD symptoms at baseline or later was associated with an increased risk of becoming obese or overweight among women with a normal BMI at baseline.

“Thus, although PTSD is a significant concern for its effects on mental health, our findings also suggest that the presence of PTSD symptoms should raise clinician concerns about the potential development of physical health problems,” the authors conclude.

(JAMA Psychiatry. Published online November 20, 2013. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.2798.