A new study published in JAMA Psychiatry reveals the relationship between post-traumatic stress disorder and obesity in women.
At issue is not whether or not PTSD, a chronic stress reaction resulting from trauma, is a risk factor for obesity in women; numerous published studies and prior research have definitively established this link. However what was not known until this current study was whether or not the link is causal or merely associative.
The research was conducted through the Department of Society, Human Development and Health, Harvard School of Public Health; participants were women involved in the National Nurses’ Study II, an observational study that began in 1989 and included 25 years of follow up. The objective was to compare women with symptoms of PTSD with women who had experienced trauma but no PTSD symptoms and with a control group of women who experienced no trauma or PTSD.
The team discovered a causal relationship between PTSD and obesity; over time, the trajectories of BMI are literally altered in women who’ve experienced trauma and who ultimately present with PTSD symptoms. They emphasize two key points for health care professionals to consider as a result of their research:
- Physicians should be cognitively aware of the weight status of their female patients who have PTSD and to continue to monitor them over time.
- Programs geared to helping women cope with PTSD should consider expanding care to include behavior modification re diet and exercise to help reduce obesity risk and the medical issues involved therein
The significance of the study is great, as 1 in 9 women will suffer from PTSD in their lifetime; although men proportionately experience more traumatic events than women, the risk for PTSD is higher in women than in men.