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Study: Obesity, depression combo therapy effective

By Tauren Dyson
After receiving integrative care, obese people with depression saw declines in body mass index from 36.7 to 35.9. File Photo by Tiago Zr/Shutterstock
After receiving integrative care, obese people with depression saw declines in body mass index from 36.7 to 35.9. File Photo by Tiago Zr/Shutterstock

March 5 (UPI) -- A person's weight and mood go hand in hand, according to a new study showing that 43 percent of obese people also have depression.

After receiving integrative care, obese people with depression saw declines in body mass index from 36.7 to 35.9, according to new findings published Tuesday in JAMA.

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"Treatments exist that are effective at treating obesity and depression separately, but none that address both conditions in concert, which is a critical unmet need because of the high prevalence of obesity and depression together," Jun Ma, a researcher at University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine and study principal investigator, said in a news release. "We have shown that delivering obesity and depression therapy in one integrated program using dually trained health coaches who work within a care team that includes a primary care physician and a psychiatrist, is effective at reducing weight and improving depressive symptoms."

Treating these conditions usually involves visiting dietitians, mental health counselors and other medical professionals. The cost and time involved with this routine often cause patients to become discouraged and quit.

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"While the demonstrated improvements in obesity and depression among participants receiving the integrated therapy were modest, the study represents a step forward because it points to an effective, practical way to integrate fragmented obesity and depression care into one combined therapy, with good potential for implementation in primary care settings, in part because the integrated mental health treatment in primary care settings is now also reimbursable by Medicare," Ma said.

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"For patients, this approach is an attractive alternative to seeing multiple practitioners each charging for their services as is done traditionally," he said.

To achieve this goal, the researchers studied patients who received a weight loss intervention that encouraged healthy eating and physical activity. They also received sessions with mental health therapists who provided psychological support and, if needed, antidepressant medication.

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About 16 million adults in the U.S. have had at least one major depressive episode, while 35 percent of adults are obese, according to the National Institutes of Health.

"We have some preliminary data that suggests if we can tailor therapy based on the patient's engagement and response early in the treatment -- for example by offering motivational interviewing to augment integrated therapy for patients who show early signs of poor engagement or progress -- we may further improve the effectiveness of the therapy," Ma said.

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