THURSDAY, March 21, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Despite beliefs to the contrary, overweight people with a serious mental illness are able to make the lifestyle changes necessary to lose weight, a new study found.
The study included 291 overweight or obese patients with a serious mental illness, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression. About half of the participants (144) were enrolled in a program that provided them with simple nutrition advice, counseling and regular exercise classes.
The rest of the participants (147) were assigned to a "control" group, and received no help with weight loss.
After 18 months, the patients in the lifestyle changes program had lost an average of 7 more pounds than those in the control group, the investigators found.
In addition, nearly 38 percent of those in the program had lost 5 percent or more of their initial body weight and more than 18 percent had lost more than 10 percent of their body weight, compared with 23 percent and 7 percent, respectively, of those in the control group.
Participants in the program continued to shed pounds as the intervention continued. It took a while for the lifestyle changes to take hold, but they eventually proved successful, the researchers noted in a news release from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The study authors added that the weight loss amounts were similar to those seen in studies on successful weight-loss programs for people in the general population.
Many people with a serious mental illness are overweight or obese and their death rate is two to three times higher than that of people in the general population, according to background information in the news release. This increased risk of death is primarily due to obesity-related complications, the authors noted.
However, it has been a common belief that people with a serious mental illness are unable to stick with the type of program that promotes lifestyle changes to help them lose weight, the researchers pointed out.
"We sought to dispel the perception that lifestyle programs don't work in this population," study leader Dr. Gail Daumit, an associate professor of general internal medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in the Hopkins news release.
"There's this really important need to find ways to help this population be healthier and lose weight. We brought a weight-loss program to them, tailored to the needs of people with serious mental illness. And we were successful," Daumit said.
The study was published online March 21 in the New England Journal of Medicine and presented the same day at an American Heart Association meeting, in New Orleans.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health offers facts about mental illness.