Depression, Insomnia, and Obesity Among Post-9/11 Veterans: Eating Pathology as a Distinct Health Risk Behavior

Mil Med. 2023 May 16;188(5-6):921-927. doi: 10.1093/milmed/usac165.


Introduction: Understanding the interrelationships between co-occurring chronic health conditions and health behaviors is critical to developing interventions to successfully change multiple health behaviors and related comorbidities. The objective of the present study was to examine the effects of depression, insomnia, and their co-occurrence on risk of obesity and to examine the role of health risk behaviors as potential confounders of these relationships with an emphasis on eating pathologies.

Methods: Iraq and Afghanistan conflict era veterans (n = 1,094, 51.2% women) who participated in the Women Veterans Cohort Study between July 2014 and September 2019 were categorized as having depression, insomnia, both, or neither condition. Logistic regression models were used to examine group differences in the risk of obesity. Health risk behaviors (i.e., eating pathology, physical activity, smoking, and hazardous drinking) were then assessed as potential confounders of the effects of depression and insomnia on the likelihood of obesity.

Results: Obesity was most prevalent in individuals with co-occurring insomnia and depression (53.2%), followed by depression only (44.6%), insomnia only (38.5%), and neither condition (30.1%). Importantly, maladaptive eating behaviors confounded the depression-obesity association but not the insomnia-obesity association. There was no evidence that insufficient physical activity, smoking, or hazardous drinking confounded the effects of insomnia or depression on obesity.

Conclusions: These findings exemplify the complex relationships between multiple health conditions and behaviors that contribute to obesity. Elucidating these associations can enhance the precision with which interventions are tailored to efficiently allocate resources and reduce the severe health impact of obesity among veterans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Health Risk Behaviors
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Multimorbidity
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic*
  • Veterans*