Solving weight gain among schizophrenics

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People with serious mental illnesses are taking part in a study in Sheffield to see whether they can lose weight through a structured education programme.

Researchers from Sheffield University’s School of Health and Related Research will put a group of schizophrenia sufferers on a set programme which emphasises the importance of diet and exercise in reducing their weight and improving quality of life.

People with the condition are up to three times more likely to be overweight or obese.

Weight gain can be a side-effect of antipsychotic drugs and, as well as triggering diabetes and heart disease, gaining extra pounds can cause sufferers to stop taking their medication.

The programme will include four weekly sessions with clinicians and follow-up sessions after three, six and nine months, all focusing on diet and exercise.

The study is sponsored by Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust and will start recruiting participants in October.

Dr David Shiers, a GP collaborator on the project, said: “Given how weight gain can damage long term physical health as well as increase stigma it is incumbent on clinicians to seek more effective ways to offset such a serious adverse effect of the antipsychotic medication they prescribe.”

The project is led by Prof Richard Holt at Southampton University. Researchers and hospital medics in Leicester are also working on the study.

“We know people with severe mental illness die 10 to 20 years earlier than the general population,” said Prof Holt.

“We want to develop a programme for use in the NHS that will help people with schizophrenia address the problem of obesity.”