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New Grant Aims to Overcome Obesity in People with Serious Mental Illness

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Science Update

A new grant funded by NIMH will test the effectiveness of a promising intervention designed to help people with serious mental illness (SMI) who are overweight or obese lose weight and keep it off.

Obesity is common among people with SMI and contributes to a higher risk for cardiovascular disease and a shortened life expectancy. Yet, typical weight loss programs are frequently less effective for people with SMI. Gail Daumit, M.D., M.H.S., of Johns Hopkins University, and colleagues designed a comprehensive behavioral weight loss program tailored to the specific needs of people with SMI. The program will be tested in a randomized clinical trial—named the ACHIEVE trial—with 320 participants in up to ten psychiatric rehabilitation centers around Maryland. Participants will be randomized to either the intervention or to a comparison group who will receive “usual care” that does not include the tailored components.

Participants in the intervention group will receive six months of intensive group and individual weight loss management and counseling sessions that complement their mental health treatments, plus exercise classes. During a 12-month follow-up maintenance period, the intensity and frequency of sessions will gradually taper off. The researchers will measure the participants’ change in weight and other health-related factors over the 18-month period. If successful, the intervention could become the basis for a model program to help people with SMI conquer obesity.