It’s widely known that people with serious mental illness have a lower life expectancy — around 25 years less — compared to the general population. One reason is that these folks are more likely to smoke and be overweight or obese which, of course, can lead to all sorts of critical health problems — heart disease, diabetes, respiratory troubles and a whole host of chronic illnesses. The challenges facing this population are great: the very medications they take to function through the day can lead to weight gain, and studies have shown that they often have poor diets and sedentary lives.A number of efforts are currently underway to try to reverse this trend by focusing directly on the physical health of the mentally ill.
The latest study in this arena, published in The New England Journal of Medicine today, found that a so-called “behavioral weight-loss intervention” including weight-management counseling and group exercise “significantly” reduced weight “in overweight and obese adults with serious mental illness” (including those with major depression, schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder).
The mean weight loss, after 18 months, was 7 pounds, researchers from Johns Hopkins report. Not so much, you may think. But researchers note: “This extent of weight loss, albeit modest, has been shown to have beneficial effects, such as a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease among persons with an initially elevated risk.” Also noteworthy is that people in this study, called ACHIEVE, lost weight gradually over time.
“Participants in the intervention group in ACHIEVE continued to lose weight after 6 months and did not regain weight, even with a reduced frequency of weight-management contact sessions and with rehabilitation staff assuming responsibility for some exercise classes. One possible explanation is that persons with serious mental illness take longer than those without serious mental illness to engage in an intervention and make requisite behavioral changes.
Maybe we can all learn something from this slow, steady, no-magic-bullet approach.