Using data from women who had experienced trauma and reported PTSD symptoms, researchers investigated the link between gaining weight and post-traumatic stress.
They found that women with PTSD symptoms were significantly more likely to become overweight or obese.
PTSD was also tied to faster weight gain.
"Seek help if you're experiencing PTSD symptoms."
Laura Kubzansky, PhD, of the Department of Society, Human Development, and Health at the Harvard School of Public Health, led this study.
According to Dr. Kubzansky and colleagues, obesity has been linked to various kinds of psychological distress and mental illness.
This study investigated the link between PTSD and weight gain in women.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that may occur after a person has experienced a traumatic event. PTSD is sometimes characterized by flashbacks, intense anxiety and problems with sleeping.
To see if PTSD symptoms were linked to weight gain and obesity in women, these researchers used the Nurses' Health Study, which involves 116,671 female registered nurses. The Nurses' Health Study began in 1989 and is ongoing. Participants' follow-up questionnaires are gathered every two years.
Dr. Kubzansky and team obtained data from 50,504 women who responded to the 2008 questionnaire, which included questions on previous trauma, PTSD symptoms and weight.
These women were divided into two groups. The first group included 35,676 women who had no trauma exposure or had experienced trauma and PTSD symptoms before the study began.
The second group included 14,828 women with trauma exposure or PTSD symptoms that occurred during or after 1989.
The researchers found that, of the women who took the 2008 questionnaire, 30.3 percent had experienced trauma but no PTSD symptoms, 30.6 percent experienced trauma and one to three symptoms and 20.5 percent experienced trauma with four or more symptoms of PTSD.
Women with trauma exposure only and women who were no longer experiencing PTSD symptoms were not any more at risk of being overweight or obese than women with no trauma histories. But women who had a normal weight at baseline and experienced trauma or PTSD later were at an increased risk of becoming obese or overweight.
Women who reported one to three PTSD symptoms were 18 percent more likely to become overweight or obese.
Women reporting four or more symptoms had a 36 percent increase in risk compared to women without trauma exposure or PTSD.
Additionally, PTSD symptoms were tied to faster weight gain.
These researchers concluded that trauma and resulting PTSD led to weight gain and obesity in women.
They suggested that their research highlights the importance of PTSD treatment and interventions that deal with obesity prevention.
This study was published in JAMA Psychiatry on January 1.
The research was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health. The authors of the study disclosed no conflicts of interest.