Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms and Problematic Overeating Behaviors in Young Men and Women

Ann Behav Med. 2017 Dec;51(6):822-832. doi: 10.1007/s12160-017-9905-1.


Background: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a risk factor for obesity, but the range of behaviors that contribute to this association are not known.

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine associations between self-reported PTSD symptoms in 2007, with and without comorbid depression symptoms, and three problematic overeating behaviors in 2010, and to estimate the associations of PTSD-related overeating behaviors with obesity.

Methods: Cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses included 7438 male (n = 2478) and female (n = 4960) participants from the Growing Up Today Study (mean age 22-29 years in 2010). Three eating behavior outcomes were assessed: binge eating (eating a large amount of food in a short period of time with loss of control), top quartile of coping-motivated eating (from the Motivations to Eat scale), and top quartile of disinhibited eating (from the Three-Factor Eating Questionnaire).

Results: PTSD symptoms were associated with two- to threefold increases in binge eating and top-quartile coping-motivated eating; having ≥4 PTSD symptoms, relative to no PTSD symptoms, was associated with covariate-adjusted RRs of 2.7 (95% CI 2.1, 3.4) for binge eating, 2.1 (95% CI 1.9, 2.4) for the top quartile of coping-motivated eating, and 1.5 (95% CI 1.3, 1.7) for the top quartile of disinhibited eating. There was a trend toward PTSD symptoms in 2007 predicting new onset binge eating in 2010. Having depression symptoms comorbid with PTSD symptoms further increased risk of binge eating and coping-motivated eating. All eating behaviors were associated with obesity.

Conclusion: Clinicians treating patients with PTSD should know of potential comorbid problematic eating behaviors that may contribute to obesity.

Keywords: Binge eating; Depression; Eating behavior; Obesity; Posttraumatic stress disorder.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Adult
  • Bulimia / epidemiology
  • Bulimia / physiopathology*
  • Comorbidity
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / physiopathology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / epidemiology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology*
  • Young Adult