Background: Cigarette smoking and lifestyle factors underlying overweight/obesity (such as unhealthy diet and physical inactivity) appear to play a major role in the excess medical morbidity and mortality among persons with serious mental illnesses. The literature on the prevalence, etiology, prevention, and treatment of these two risk factors, in the context of serious mental illnesses, are reviewed following a preventive approach.
Methods: The review relied upon searches of the MEDLINE database, from 1996 through April 2006, restricted to the English language. Original research, review articles, and clinical guidelines relevant to the topics of cigarette smoking, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and overweight/obesity among individuals with serious mental illnesses were identified.
Results: Compared to those without a mental illness, individuals with a current mental illness are more than twice as likely to smoke cigarettes and more than 50% more likely to be overweight/obese, presumably the product of unhealthy diet and physical inactivity. Various biological, iatrogenic, and social factors place psychiatric patients at risk for these and other adverse health behaviors. Studies suggest that many of the same preventive approaches developed for general medical populations are likely to be effective in persons with serious mental disorders, though specialized approaches also are needed. Domains of prevention include primary prevention (population-based strategies to reduce the incidence of these adverse health behaviors), secondary prevention (early detection and treatment), and tertiary prevention (pharmacological and psychosocial treatments to reduce the burden of illness among those with the behaviors in question). However, mental health clinicians commonly lack the training or expertise to provide these services.
Conclusions: The high prevalence, adverse effects, and efficaciousness of treatments for smoking and obesity in persons with serious mental illnesses suggest the importance of addressing these problems in this population. Both further research and dissemination efforts are needed to ensure that patients with serious mental illnesses receive the appropriate preventive and clinical services for these two adverse health conditions.