Article Title

Postdeployment Mental Health Status and Obesity Among a Multigenerational Sample of U.S. Veterans

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Background: Since history of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression have been associated with obesity in previous studies, the objective of the current study was to assess if these disorders were associated with obesity among formerly deployed U.S. veterans.

Methods: We surveyed a random sample of U.S. veterans who were patients in a large non-Veterans Affairs (VA) multihospital system located in central and northeastern Pennsylvania to assess their mental health, physical health and obesity status. Obesity was defined as having a body mass index > 30. Our hypothesis was that mental health status, including having PTSD or depression, was associated with obesity.

Results: Of 1,289 veterans surveyed (response rate ~60%), 53.6% were from the Vietnam era, 95.0% were male, 54.5% were ≥ 65 years old, 95.7% were white race, and 26.9% were recent National Guard or Reserve service members. Altogether, 44.3% (95% confidence interval: 41.5–47.1) of veterans were classified as obese. Study variables associated with obesity included nonwhite race, not having a college degree, having a lower income, reporting lower unit support during deployment, currently using the VA system, having applied for or received VA disability, having ever used mental health services, currently using psychotropic medications, reporting poor/fair health status, and reporting pain in the past month (P < 0.05 for all). Contrary to our hypothesis, neither having PTSD nor depression were associated with obesity among veterans in the current study. In multivariable analyses that adjusted for age, gender, education, combat exposure, life stressors and social support, no association was found between mental health status and obesity. The best predictors of current obesity among veterans was having a college education (odds ratio: 0.53; P < 0.001), suggesting that college was protective, and reporting poor or fair health status (odds ratio: 1.51; P = 0.001).

Conclusion: These preliminary data do not support the link between mental health status and obesity among deployed U.S. veterans. Further research that examines obesity, and eating disorders, among formerly deployed veterans is planned.