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People with serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression can lose weight and keep it off through a modified lifestyle intervention program, a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)-funded study reported online today in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Over 80 percent of people with serious mental illnesses are overweight or obese, which contributes to them dying at three times the rate of the overall population. They succumb mostly to the same things the rest of the population experiences—cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Although antipsychotic medications increase appetite and cause weight gain in these patients, it is not the only culprit. Like the general population, sedentary lifestyle and poor diet also play a part. Lifestyle modifications such as diet and exercise should work for these patients, yet they are often left out of weight loss studies.

“People with serious mental illnesses are commonly excluded from studies to help them help themselves about their weight, said Gail L. Daumit, M.D., of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, and the study’s lead author. “We’re showing that serious mentally ill patients can make successful, sustained changes with proper interventions.”

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