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Researchers Find Correlation Between Pain and Overeating in Veterans

March 03, 2020

Over 40 percent of veterans screened by Yale researchers overate in response to physical pain at least once in the 30 days prior to being surveyed, a new study shows.

The behavior, known as pain overeating, was more prevalent for 14 percent of veterans who reported eating in response to physical pain at least once a day.

Researchers reported their findings in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine. They said pain overeating is common among older adults who seek to lose weight, and that it is more prevalent among veterans with higher weight who engage in other unhealthy eating behaviors.

“There is an urgent need in this country to better help individuals with the combined problems of overweight and chronic pain,” said Robin Masheb, PhD, Senior Research Scientist in Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and first author of the study. “In our work with veterans we are finding that weight management interventions that address eating in response to physical pain may be worth investigating.”

Masheb is Director of the Veterans Initiative for Eating and Weight (The View), the only national program dedicated to addressing the broad spectrum of eating and weight problems in veterans through research and consultation.

Studies show that rates of chronic pain and excess weight are higher among veterans, who report suffering from conditions like low back pain and osteoarthritis. Masheb and her research team sought to quantify the relationship between pain and overeating by surveying 126 veterans who were referred to an orientation session for a national program called MOVE!, a 16-week interdisciplinary weight management program offered at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System in West Haven.

The results showed 42.5 percent of veterans said they overate due to pain at least one day in the month preceding the survey, while daily pain-related emotional eating was reported by 14.2 percent of veterans. The researchers theorized that overeating in response to pain may be a specific type of “maladaptive pain-related coping which puts individuals at additional risk for becoming overweight/obese or developing disordered eating.”

“A better understanding of pain overeating, and how to address it, may help clinicians adapt interventions for weight loss and weight management,” Masheb said.

Masheb and her colleagues at the West Haven VA, Alison Marsh and Mary Driscoll, were assisted by researchers from Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation in Dallas and the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System.

Submitted by Christopher Gardner on March 02, 2020