Women who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are at a much higher risk of getting addicted to food compared to women without symptoms of the disease.
Susan M. Mason, PhD, of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, and colleagues examined data from the Nurses’ Health Study II on 49,408 female nurses who were asked about PTSD symptoms in 2008. A year later, they were queried about food addiction.
For the study, food addiction was defined by three or more symptoms that included eating when no longer hungry four or more times per week, worrying about cutting down on food four or more times per week, feeling the need to eat an increasing amount of food to reduce distress at any frequency and having physical withdrawal symptoms when cutting down on certain foods two or more times per week.
About 80 of the women said they experienced some kind of traumatic event in their life, and nearly two-thirds of the women reported having at least one lifetime PTSD symptom. About 8% met criteria for food addiction, the researchers reported in JAMA Psychiatry.
The number of PTSD symptoms also influenced the likelihood of food addiction. Women with six or seven such symptoms were more than twice as likely to have an addiction to food compared to women without PTSD symptoms or a history of trauma (prevalence ratio, 2.68; 95% CI, 2.41-2.97).
“Our findings are relevant to ongoing questions regarding the mechanisms behind observed associations between PTSD and obesity, and they provide support for hypotheses suggesting that association between PTSD and obesity might partly originate in maladaptive coping and use of food to blunt trauma-associated distress,” the researchers wrote.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) appears to increase obesity risk but the pathways by which PTSD leads to weight gain are not known. Identification of the links between PTSD and obesogenic eating behaviors is necessary to clarify this pathway and inform development of obesity prevention strategies in PTSD-affected populations.
The objective of the study is to determine whether women with PTSD symptoms are more likely to report food addiction, a measure of perceived dependence on food, than women without PTSD symptoms. Also, to determine whether age at PTSD symptom onset and type of trauma influence the PTSD–food addiction association.