Weight Loss in People with Serious Mental Illness

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A new study showed that a weight-loss intervention can help overweight and obese people with serious mental illnesses—such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression—lose significant weight and keep it off.

More than 80% of people with serious mental illnesses are overweight or obese—a major factor that helps lead to a death rate 3 times that of the overall population. Factors that contribute to obesity include unhealthy eating habits and lack of physical activity. Medications to help control mental illness symptoms can increase appetite and encourage weight gain. Adding to these challenges, people with serious mental illnesses may have impairments in memory and mental processes that make it more difficult for them to learn and adopt new weight loss behaviors such as counting calories.

To address the problem, researchers led by Dr. Gail L. Daumit at Johns Hopkins University tested the effectiveness of an 18-month behavioral weight-loss program tailored for adults with serious mental illnesses. The findings demonstrate that overweight and obese adults with serious mental illness can adopt healthy habits while in an outpatient psychiatric rehabilitation program. “We’re showing that serious mentally ill patients can make successful, sustained changes with proper interventions,” Daumit says. The researchers now hope to expand the program.

–National Institutes of Health (NIH)

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