PTSD in women linked to food addiction

A study conducted at the University of Minnesota has linked Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in women to a higher risk of obesity and related diseases.

Three in 100 people are estimated to develop PTSD – an anxiety disorder characterised by sleep problems, nervousness and distressing flashbacks following a terrifying event – yet there is growing concern PTSD symptoms could also include food addiction.

Researchers were specifically keen to highlight this link in their study.

“Food addiction is not currently established as a psychiatric diagnosis,” they noted in the JAMA Psychiatry journal where the study is published.

“However, the concept may nonetheless be helpful for identifying the reliance on food to cope with psychological distress, one plausible pathway from PTSD to obesity.”

The study involved 49,408 women who were aged 25 – 42 when it began in 1989.

In 2008 the women were given questionnaires to identify any circumstances of trauma and symptoms of PTSD.

A year later they were assessed for signs of food addiction. These included:

  • Continuing to eat when no longer hungry four or more times a week.
  • Feeling the need to eat large quantities of food to combat stress.
  • Worrying about reducing food intake four or more times a week.

Of the 81% of women who had experienced at least one traumatic event, 34% reported no symptoms of PTSD, while 39% showed signs of only two or three, and 17% reported around four to five.

Overall, 10% reported the most symptoms of PTSD and the study showed that this group of women had a higher prevalence of food addiction – up to 18%.

Women with no symptoms showed only 6% prevalence.

In addition, the study showed that the earlier the age at which symptoms of PTSD occurred, the stronger the association with food addiction.

Explaining the significance of the study, the researchers concluded: “We believe that the value of the food addiction construct goes beyond its identification of psychiatric illness by capturing a potentially important maladaptive coping behaviour that may provide insight into mechanisms linking trauma and PTSD to obesity.”

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Tamara Marshall

Written by Tamara Marshall

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