Obesity risk to children taking antipsychotic drugs

Monday 2nd November, 2009

New research from the US suggests that children prescribed psychiatric drugs for conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder may be at risk of becoming obese.

One drug in particular caused some children to increase their weight by over 9kg in three months. Researchers have called on doctors to make sure the benefits of the medication do not outweigh the negative side-effects.

Antipsychotic drugs are rarely prescribed for children for serious mental health conditions but are used for child behavioural disorders such as ADHD or autism.

Recent studies of adults who take antipsychotics found an increased risk of weight gain and even diabetes but there has been little research into the effects on children.

This latest study involved over 300 children under the age of 18 who took one of four antipsychotic medications over a 12 week period. The children were monitored for weight, blood sugar levels and cholesterol. The results were compared against children who’d been considered for antipsychotic treatment but without the drugs or had stopped taking medication within a four week period.

Those children taking one of the four drugs increased their weight with the biggest gain (8.5kg) among those taking olanzapine (Zyprexa). Results for the other drugs were 6.1kg for quetiapine (Seroquel), 5.3kg for risperidone (Risperdal) and 4.4kg for aripiprazole (Ablify).

Weight gain was predominantly around the waist and children were more likely to become overweight or obese during the study. Children taking olanzapine and quetiapine had higher cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Questions have been raised about the size of the comparison group (those who didn’t take the drugs) which was relatively small and not a random selection. However, such big increases in weight for children taking the drugs suggest the findings are reliable.

Antipsychotic drugs are more widely used in the US than the UK where doctors only prescribe them if the child’s condition is serious enough. However, the UK tends to follow trends from the US and this situation may change in the coming years.



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