PTSD May Mean Bigger Waistlines

PTSD symptoms in women linked to higher risk of becoming overweight or obese

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) A range of different events or circumstances could trigger the development of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in individuals. That PTSD may then increase other health risks.

A recent study found that women who had PTSD were more likely to become overweight or obese.

Over the long-term study, even women who started with no PTSD but developed it later were subject to this increased risk.

The risk for becoming overweight or obese among women with PTSD symptoms remained even when the researchers accounted for having depression.

The researchers suggested that doctors pay attention to possible health risks, such as obesity, in their clients if those clients develop PTSD.

"Seek help for your PTSD symptoms."

This study, led by Laura D. Kubzansky, PhD, of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, looked at whether PTSD was related to obesity in women.

The researchers measured symptoms of PTSD in 54,224 women, aged 24 to 44, who joined a study starting in 1989 and were tracked through 2005.

Throughout the study period, the women filled out regular questionnaires about their lifestyle and physical and mental health. Their body measurements were also regularly assessed.

The researchers then compared the body mass index (BMI) measurements of the women to any symptoms of PTSD they may have experienced.

BMI is a ratio of a person's height to weight. It is used to determine if a person is a healthy weight or is underweight or overweight.

A person with a BMI between 18.5 and 25 is considered to have a normal weight while an overweight BMI is between 25 and 30. An obese person has a BMI between 30 and 40, and a severely obese BMI would be a 40 or greater.

The researchers found that women who had at least four symptoms of PTSD before the study began in 1989 saw a sharper increase in their BMI over the study period than women who did not have PTSD symptoms.

Among these women who developed PTSD during the course of the study, no differences were observed in their BMI before they developed the PTSD symptoms, compared to women who never ended up developing the condition.

However, after their PTSD began occurring, those with at least four symptoms experienced a greater increase in their weight than those who never developed PTSD during the study.

The increases in the weight of women who had PTSD when the study started and those who developed PTSD during the study was similar.

The researchers calculated that women who developed at least four symptoms of PTSD had 36 percent greater odds of becoming overweight or obese than those who had no PTSD symptoms.

These findings remained even when the researchers took into account other differences between the women, including a history or diagnosis of depression.

The researchers concluded that having PTSD was linked to an increased risk of obesity. This risk appeared in women who developed PTSD after the condition's symptoms began occurring.

"The presence of PTSD symptoms should raise clinician concerns about physical health problems that may develop and prompt closer attention to weight status," the researchers wrote.

Daniel Berarducci, MA, a Clinical Professional Counselor at Person-Holistic Innovations in Las Vegas, Nevada, said that a key criteria for diagnosis of PTSD is that the symptoms related to the traumatic event have to last for at least a month.

"However individuals can continue to experience PTSD symptoms for an extended period of time (sometimes years), which will then produced significant physiological stress within the body," said Berarducci, who was not involved with this study.

"If the PTSD concerns are left untreated, as with any significant mental health concern, the individual may begin to experience concerns with their 'basic skills,' or what Abraham Maslow termed our Physiological Needs in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs," he said.  

"An individual will experience disrupted or prolonged sleep, under-eating or over-eating and poor hygiene skills," Berarducci said. "What then occurs is a negative cycle of mental health concerns in combination with physical health concerns, and over time (potentially years), an individual can learn many unhealthy lifestyle habits."

This study was published November 20 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
November 20, 2013
Last Updated:
January 22, 2014