Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Lead to Weight Loss in Mentally Ill

May 22, 2002

Public Affairs

Belmont, MA - Psychiatric patients can control and even reverse treatment-related weight gain by making simple lifestyle changes, according to a study being presented tomorrow at the 155th annual American Psychiatric Association (APA) meeting in Philadelphia.

"Managing weight gain is a challenge for many Americans, especially those with severe and persistent mental illness, who often lack healthy lifestyle habits or have limited income," said Franca Centorrino, MD, director of McLean Hospital's Bipolar and Psychotic Disorders Outpatient Service, who conducted the trial along with Judith Wurtman, PhD, director of the TRIAD Weight Management Center at McLean. "By designing our program specifically for the needs of people with mental illness, we have shown that with the right counseling and choices, patients can manage weight gain."

The 24-week study examined the benefits of lifestyle interventions in 17 individuals with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. When they entered the study, individuals were taking one of four common antipsychotic medications. Baseline body mass index (BMI) averaged 36.6 (231.4 pounds) and each person had gained 10 or more pounds while on antipsychotic therapy.

Subjects participated in weekly dietary counseling and twice-weekly group exercise involving a treadmill, step machine, bike or rowing machine. Options for those on limited budgets included walking, recreational games and strength training at home. Changes in weight and appetite were monitored weekly. Mental status, quality of life and side effects were assessed monthly.

Ninety-four percent of subjects had an average decrease in BMI of 2.1 points and on average lost 13.1 pounds. The lifestyle interventions also resulted in overall health benefits, as patients lowered their resting heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides by the end of the study.

"Dependably managing schizophrenia with appropriate medication should be the first priority for physicians and their patients. Once their symptoms and lives are under control, patients can then implement simple lifestyle changes to help manage weight gain, and stay on the treatment that works best for them," said Centorrino, whose research was supported by Eli Lilly and Company.

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