March 2013

Weight Loss Interventions May Benefit Obese, Mentally Ill Population

Weight loss interventions focusing on exercise and a healthy diet may be effective in overweight or obese people with mental illness, a study suggests.

Scientists recruited 291 overweight or obese adults from 10 psychiatric rehabilitation programs. About 58.1 percent of the participants had schizophrenia, 22 percent had bipolar disorder, and 12 percent had major depression. The subjects were randomly assigned to the control group or the intervention group, which received weight management and exercise sessions. The research team assessed weight change at six, 12, and 18 months.

At the beginning of the study, the average weight was 225.9 pounds and the average body mass index (BMI) was 36.3, with a BMI of 30 or above considered obese. Subjects in the intervention group had significantly more weight loss compared to those in the control group. At 18 months, 37.8 percent of people in the intervention group lost at least five percent of their initial weight, compared to 22.7 percent of those in the control group.

The researchers concluded that a weight loss intervention that encourages exercise and a healthy diet may be effective for overweight or obese people who have psychiatric disorders. They added that this may be a high-risk population with regard to weight-related disease and that targeted weight loss programs need to be implemented.

Obesity is typically considered a long-term condition that often persists for many years. Researchers believe that many factors, including poor diet, overeating, pregnancy, medications, medical conditions, genetics, gender, and age, may contribute to a person becoming obese. Obesity can have serious long-term effects on health. Individuals who are overweight have an increased risk of developing many life-threatening illnesses including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancer. According to the American Heart Association, obesity was associated with nearly 112,000 deaths in 2005.

There is strong scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of ephedra for weight loss. However, major safety concerns have been linked to ephedra use, including high blood pressure, abnormal heart beat, heart attack, and stroke. On February 6, 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a final rule prohibiting the sale of dietary supplements containing ephedra because such supplements present an unreasonable risk of illness or injury. The rule became effective 60 days from the date of publication.

The Atkins diet, DHEA, 5-HTP, and psychotherapy have all been studied for their potential benefits in aiding weight reduction. These integrative therapies are backed by good scientific evidence for this purpose. More research is needed before further conclusions can be made.

For more information about obesity, please visit Natural Standard's Medical Conditions database.


  1. Daumit GL, Dickerson FB, Wang NY, et al. A Behavioral Weight-Loss Intervention in Persons with Serious Mental Illness. N Engl J Med. 2013 Mar 21. [Epub ahead of print] 
  2. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. 

The information in this brief report is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions. Copyright © 2024 NatMed. Commercial distribution or reproduction prohibited. NatMed is the leading provider of high-quality, evidence-based, clinically-relevant information on natural medicine, dietary supplements, herbs, vitamins, minerals, functional foods, diets, complementary practices, CAM modalities, exercises and medical conditions. Monograph sections include interactions with herbs, drugs, foods and labs, contraindications, depletions, dosing, toxicology, adverse effects, pregnancy and lactation data, synonyms, safety and effectiveness.