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Individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are at increased risk of various chronic diseases. One hypothesized pathway is via changes in diet quality. This study evaluated whether PTSD was associated with deterioration in diet quality over time.
Data were from 51 965 women in the Nurses' Health Study II PTSD sub-study followed over 20 years. Diet, assessed at 4-year intervals, was characterized via the Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 (AHEI). Based on information from the Brief Trauma Questionnaire and Short Screening Scale for DSM-IV PTSD, trauma/PTSD status was classified as no trauma exposure, prevalent exposure (trauma/PTSD onset before study entry), or new-onset (trauma/PTSD onset during follow-up). We further categorized women with prevalent exposure as having trauma with no PTSD symptoms, trauma with low PTSD symptoms, and trauma with high PTSD symptoms, and created similar categories for women with new-onset exposure, resulting in seven comparison groups. Multivariable linear mixed-effects spline models tested differences in diet quality changes by trauma/PTSD status over follow-up.
Overall, diet quality improved over time regardless of PTSD status. In age-adjusted models, compared to those with no trauma, women with prevalent high PTSD and women with new-onset high PTSD symptoms had 3.3% and 3.6% lower improvement in diet quality, respectively, during follow-up. Associations remained consistent after adjusting for health conditions, sociodemographics, and behavioral characteristics.
PTSD is associated with less healthy changes in overall diet quality over time. Poor diet quality may be one pathway linking PTSD with a higher risk of chronic disease development.
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