Women with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) gain weight more rapidly and are more likely to be overweight or obese than women without the disorder, find researchers at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. It is the first study to look at the relationship between PTSD and obesity over time.

The study was published online November 20, 2013 in JAMA Psychiatry.

One in nine women will have PTSD at some point over the course of their lifetime — twice as often as men. Women are also more likely to experience extreme traumatic events like rape that carry a high risk for the disorder.

“PTSD is not just a mental health issue,” says study senior author Karestan Koenen, Mailman School associate professor of epidemiology and adjunct associate professor of social and behavioral sciences at HSPH. “Along with cardiovascular disease and diabetes, we can now add obesity to the list of known health risks of PTSD.”

“The good news from the study is that it appears that when PTSD symptoms abate, risk of becoming overweight or obese is also significantly reduced,” says first author Laura Kubzansky, professor of social and behavioral sciences at HSPH. However, despite the growing evidence of potential far-reaching problems associated with PTSD, it’s estimated that only half of women in the United States with the disorder are ever treated.

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