17 Sep PTSD Increases Risk of Food Addiction in Women
Medical Research: What are the main findings of the study?
Dr. Mason: We examined 49,408 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study II to see if those who had experienced PTSD symptoms at some point in their lives were more likely than those without PTSD symptoms to meet the criteria for food addiction, a measure of perceived dependence on food. We found that the 8% of women with the most lifetime PTSD symptoms were about 2.7 times as likely to meet the criteria for food addiction as women with no lifetime PTSD symptoms. This translates to an elevation in food addiction prevalence from about 6% among women with no PTSD symptoms to about 16% in women with the most PTSD symptoms.
Medical Research: What was most surprising about the results?
Dr. Mason: Another thing we found is that if women’s PTSD symptoms occurred earlier in life their likelihood of food addiction was even higher–for example, women who had a large number of PTSD symptoms and reported that their symptoms began before the age of 10 years were about 3.7 times as likely to meet the criteria for food addiction as women who never experienced PTSD symptoms. What’s surprising about this is that food addiction was measured later in life (at age 45-64 years), so it is interesting that the PTSD that occurred in the distant past seemed to be most strongly correlated with food addiction in midlife.
Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Dr. Mason: The findings tell us that PTSD symptoms may be accompanied by problematic eating behaviors that are distressing. If clinicians providing mental health care are aware that PTSD is sometimes accompanied by problematic eating behaviors, then they may be able to offer better and more tailored care to their patients.
Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Dr. Mason: Our hypothesis is that PTSD led to food addiction, but we can’t be sure that is what’s happening based on these findings. This is because our study was based on cross-sectional data (PTSD symptoms and food addiction were assessed at roughly the same time and their timing relative to one another is unknown). It is possible that food addiction is associated with PTSD in some other way–for example, through an underlying propensity toward mental health disorders in general. We think our study findings are intriguing, but they need to be replicated in other populations and with more information on whether PTSD actually predicts subsequent food addiction risk before we will know how important they are.
Mason SM, Flint AJ, Roberts AL, Agnew-Blais J, Koenen KC, Rich-Edwards JW. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms and Food Addiction in Women by Timing and Type of Trauma Exposure. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online September 17, 2014. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.1208.