Women with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are at greater risk for developing a food addiction, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Minnesota.
In fact, women who show severe symptoms of PTSD are twice as likely to meet food addiction criteria.
“I’d really like the message to come across that people bring a whole lot of history to their eating behaviors,” said lead author Susan Mason, Ph.D., M.P.H., from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
The study, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, involved more than 49,000 female participants who were asked to complete a questionnaire.
The findings showed that women who reported more PTSD symptoms were more likely to have food addiction when measured with the Yale Food Addiction Scale, a measure of food dependency.
More than 50 percent of the participants were exposed to some type of trauma, and about 66 percent of these women reported experiencing at least one lifetime PTSD symptom. Around 8 percent of these women also reported between 6 and 7 PTSD symptoms, which was the maximum on the questionnaire they had completed. About 8 percent of the total participants were believed to have food addiction.
“This prevalence ranged from 6 percent among women with no trauma and no PTSD symptoms to nearly 18 percent among women with trauma and 6-7 PTSD symptoms,” said the researchers.
Mason suggests that food addiction can also lead to obesity, which is also a major public health issue in the U.S. More research is needed, however, to establish a connection between PTSD and obesity.
“I just want this to add to a lot of research that people’s weight status is not just a symptom of willpower and education,” Mason said. “There may be psychological factors in play too.”
Mason added that they don’t know which occurred first in these women — PTSD or food addiction — or even if one causes the other.
“These two things appeared to happen a lot in the same women,” Mason said. “We don’t know it’s causal. It’s an interesting relationship and probably worth following up.”
The findings could help physicians treat women with eating disorders. “Clinicians may be able to look for that information to deliver better care,” Mason said.
Approximately 7 to 8 percent of Americans will suffer from PTSD at some point in their life and around 5.2 million adults experience PTSD each year in the U.S.
The study is published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
Source: University of Minnesota