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Rapid Weight Gain in Children Linked to Common Psychiatric Meds


Researchers at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks NY have found a link to substantial weight gain and hypercholesterolemia in children and adolescents taking many common psychiatric medications. The report is published in the October 28th issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association and is part of the Second Generation Antipsychotic Treatment Indications, Effectiveness and Tolerability in Youth study (SATIETY).

Dr. Christoph Correll studied 257 children and teens between the ages of 4 to 19 from 2001 to 2007 who were prescribed psychotropic medications for the first time. By restricting the study to children who had not previously been on behavioral drugs, the researchers were better able to monitor the outcomes of the medication. The researchers also monitored 15 children who refused medications but continued with therapy.

The drugs that were prescribed during the study are in a class called atypical antipsychotics, and included olanzapine (Zyprexa), quetiapine (Seroquel), risperidone (Risperdal), and aripiprazole (Abilify). The medications wee used to treat bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and behavior spectrum disorders such as autism.

After 11 weeks, patients on the psychotropic medications gained between 10 and 19 pounds on average. Children on Zyprexa gained the most weight – an average of 18.7 pounds. Those taking Abilify gained the least, 9.7 pounds on average. The control group not on medication gained an average of one pound during the monitoring period.

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Although the majority of the children studied were at a normal BMI when the trial began (62%), 10-36% of the patients transitioned into an overweight or obese status within the 11-week study.

Another adverse effect of two medications was hyperlipidemia. Those taking Zyprexa showed increased LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. The patients on Seroquel also showed increased triglycerides. The other two medications did not have a significant effect on cholesterol.

Weight gain is a common complaint among patients who take psychiatric medications, but the biological mechanism is not entirely clear. One effect appears to be appetite stimulation, particularly for carbohydrates, because the medications can affect blood sugar and insulin levels. Another theory is that the mild sedative effect that comes with the drugs lead to decreased activity.

Only Abilify and Risperdal are currently approved for pediatric use. Zyprexa and Seroquel have been recommended to the FDA for use in children, but are currently only approved for adult use.

Denise Reynolds RD LDN
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