Behavioral Therapy Program Achieves Weight Loss for People with Mental Illness

Gail L. Daumit, M.D., M.H.S., Expert in depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and mental illness
Dr. Gail L. Daumit

NARSAD Grantees Gail L. Daumit, M.D., M.H.S., Faith B. Dickerson, Ph.D., M.P.H., and Richard W. Goldberg, Ph.D., launched the first weight loss clinical trial to include people with serious mental illnesses. Project “ACHIEVE” was tailored especially for people with major mental illness such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and depression and results of the study, reported online in The New England Journal of Medicine, show that people with serious mental illnesses lose weight and can keep it off through a modified lifestyle intervention program.

Over 80 percent of people with serious mental illnesses are overweight or obese. Antipsychotic medications are known to increase appetite and cause weight gain and many patients also live a sedentary lifestyle and have poor nutritional habits.

“People with serious mental illnesses are commonly excluded from studies to help them help themselves about their weight,” said Dr. Daumit, of Johns Hopkins University, the study’s lead author. “We’re showing that serious mentally ill patients can make successful, sustained changes with proper interventions.”

ACHIEVE was based on lifestyle changes known to be effective in the general population, and was amended to account for cognitive and behavioral challenges present in mental illness. The study had almost 300 participants who used an average of 3 psychotropic medications each. Half were placed in a program focused on improving eating and exercise habits while the other half received no special training. Those in the intervention group lost an average of 7 pounds over the course of the study and continued to maintain the loss.

Read more in the Schizophrenia Research Forum sponsored by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation

Read the study in New England Journal of Medicine