Several health conditions and concerns have been reported to be increased among Gulf War veterans including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), CFS-like illness, and unexplained multi-symptom illness (MSI). As the cohort of Gulf War veterans advance in age, they are likely to be at risk of not only certain deployment-related health conditions but also chronic diseases associated with lifestyle factors.
To clarify relationships between PTSD, CFS-like illness, MSI, and obesity, we analyzed data from a cross-sectional survey of health information among population-based samples of 15,000 Gulf War veterans and 15,000 veterans who served during the same era. Data had been collected from 9,970 respondents in 2003–2005 via a structured questionnaire or telephone survey.
Based upon body mass index (BMI) estimated from self-reported information about height and weight, the percentages of Gulf War and Gulf Era veterans who were overweight (BMI 25 to ≤ 29.9), were 46.8% and 48.7%, respectively. The percentages who were obese (BMI ≥ 30) were 29.6% and 28.3%, respectively. Without adjustment for Gulf deployment status (Gulf War vs Gulf Era), age, sex, or other factors, PTSD, MSI, CFS-like illness, and other chronic health conditions were more common among obese veterans than those who were normal weight (BMI 18.5 to ≤ 24.9). In multivariate analyses, PTSD was positively associated with obesity after adjustment for age, sex, Gulf deployment status, rank, income, education, and current smoking. In the model for PTSD, the adjusted odds ratio for obesity was 1.5 (95% CI 1.2–1.8). No associations were observed between BMI categories and CFS-like illness or MSI in multivariate analysis.
Gulf War and Gulf Era veterans who were obese were more likely to have certain chronic health conditions including PTSD. Associations between Gulf status and CFS-like illness and MSI identified in the 2003–2005 follow-up survey were not accounted for by group differences in the prevalence of overweight or obesity.