PTSD raises risk for obesity in women

November 20, 2013

Women with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) gain weight more rapidly and are more likely to be overweight or obese than women without the disorder, find researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and Harvard School of Public Health. It is the first study to look at the relationship between PTSD and obesity over time. Results appear online in JAMA Psychiatry.

One in nine women will have PTSD at sometime over the course of their lifetime--twice as often as men. Women are also more likely to experience extreme traumatic events like rape that carry a high risk for the disorder.

"PTSD is not just a mental health issue," says study senior author Karestan Koenen, PhD, Mailman School associate professor of Epidemiology. "Along with cardiovascular disease and diabetes, we can now add obesity to the list of known health risks of PTSD."

"The good news from the study is that it appears that when PTSD symptoms abate, risk of becoming overweight or obese is also significantly reduced," says first author Laura D. Kubzansky, PhD, Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard School of Public Health. However, despite the growing evidence of potential far-reaching problems associated with PTSD, it's estimated that only half of women in the United States with the disorder are ever treated. "Hopefully, wider recognition that PTSD can also influence physical health will improve this statistic, leading to better screening and treatments, including those to prevent obesity," says Dr. Kubzansky.

While it's known that women with PTSD have high rates of obesity, it has been unclear whether PTSD was actually driving the weight gain. To explore the issue, the researchers analyzed data collected from 50,504 women, aged 22-44 years, taking part in the Nurses' Health Study II between 1989 and 2009. Participants were asked about the worst trauma they experienced and if they had related post-traumatic stress symptoms. The threshold for PTSD was the persistence of four or more symptoms over a month or longer. Common symptoms include re-experiencing the traumatic event, feeling under threat, social avoidance, and numbness.

Normal-weight women who developed PTSD during the study period had 36% increased odds of becoming overweight or obese compared with women who experienced trauma but had no symptoms of PTSD. The higher risk was evident even for women with sub-threshold symptoms levels and remained after adjusting for depression, which has also been proposed as a major risk factor for obesity. In women with PTSD that began prior to the study period, body mass index increased at a more rapid pace than women without PTSD.

The observed effect of PTSD on obesity is likely stronger in the general population of women than in nurses, notes Dr. Koenen. "Nurses are great for studies because they report health measures like BMI with a high degree of accuracy. But they are also more health conscious and probably less likely to become obese than most of us, which makes these results more conservative than they would otherwise be."

Symptoms of PTSD rather than the trauma itself seemed to be behind the weight gain. "We looked at the women who developed PTSD and compared them to women who experienced trauma but did not develop PTSD. On the whole, before their symptoms emerged, the rate of change in BMI was the same as the women who never experienced trauma or did experience trauma but never developed symptoms," says Dr. Kubzansky.

How exactly does PTSD lead to weight gain? The biological pathway is unknown, but scientists have a number of guesses. One is through the over-activation of stress hormones. PTSD may lead to disturbances in functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the sympathetic nervous system, each of which are involved in regulating a broad range of body processes, including metabolism. Another is through unhealthy behavior patterns that may be used to cope with stress. Ongoing research is looking at whether PTSD increases women's preference for processed foods and decreases their likelihood of exercising.
-end-
Co-authors include Pula Bordelois, MPH, and Andrea Roberts, PhD, at Harvard School of Public Health; Hee Jin Jun, DrPH, at the Channing Division of Network Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital; Noah Blustone, BA, at Harvard Medical School and Boston University; and Magdalena Cerda, DrPH, at Columbia's Mailman School.

The study was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health to Dr. Koenen (MH078928 and MH093612). The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

Related Obesity Articles from Brightsurf:

11 years of data add to the evidence for using testosterone therapy to treat obesity, including as an alternative to obesity surgery
New research covering 11 years of data presented at this year's European and International Congress on Obesity (ECOICO 2020) show that, in obese men suffering from hypogonadism (low testosterone), treatment with testosterone injections lowers their weight and improves a wide range of other metabolic parameters.

Overlap between immunology of COVID-19 and obesity could explain the increased risk of death in people living with obesity, and also older patients
Data presented in a special COVID-19 session at the European and International Congress on Obesity (ECOICO 2020) suggests that there are overlaps between the immunological disturbances found in both COVID-19 disease and patients with obesity, which could explain the increased disease severity and mortality risk faced by obese patients, and also elderly patients, who are infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 disease.

New obesity guideline: Address root causes as foundation of obesity management
besity management should focus on outcomes that patients consider to be important, not weight loss alone, and include a holistic approach that addresses the root causes of obesity, according to a new clinical practice guideline published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) http://www.cmaj.ca/lookup/doi/10.1503/cmaj.191707.

Changing the debate around obesity
The UK's National Health Service (NHS) needs to do more to address the ingrained stigma and discrimination faced by people with obesity, says a leading health psychologist.

Study links longer exposure to obesity and earlier development of obesity to increased risk of type 2 diabetes
Cumulative exposure to obesity could be at least as important as actually being obese in terms of risk of developing type 2 diabetes (T2D), concludes new research published in Diabetologia (the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes [EASD]).

How much do obesity and addictions overlap?
A large analysis of personality studies has found that people with obesity behave somewhat like people with addictions to alcohol or drugs.

Should obesity be recognized as a disease?
With obesity now affecting almost a third (29%) of the population in England, and expected to rise to 35% by 2030, should we now recognize it as a disease?

Is obesity associated with risk of pediatric MS?
A single-center study of 453 children in Germany with multiple sclerosis (MS) investigated the association of obesity with pediatric MS risk and with the response of first-line therapy in children with MS.

Women with obesity prior to conception are more likely to have children with obesity
A systematic review and meta-analysis identified significantly increased odds of child obesity when mothers have obesity before conception, according to a study published June 11, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS Medicine by Nicola Heslehurst of Newcastle University in the UK, and colleagues.

Obesity medicine association announces major updates to its adult obesity algorithm
The Obesity Medicine Association (OMA) announced the immediate availability of the 2019 OMA Adult Obesity Algorithm, with new information for clinicians including the relationship between Obesity and Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes Mellitus, Dyslipidemia, and Cancer; information on investigational Anti-Obesity Pharmacotherapy; treatments for Lipodystrophy; and Pharmacokinetics and Obesity.

Read More: Obesity News and Obesity Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.