Patients with mental illness are at an increased risk of diseases such as diabetes, but they are less likely to receive advice from their doctors regarding exercise or their dietary intake, says a study by the University of Illinois. The research was announced on Feb. 24, 2015, and was published in the journal Diabetes Educator.
More than half of the patients with the symptoms of mental illness reported that their healthcare providers did not tell them to exercise or reduce their dietary fat intake. Nearly one-third of the study participants had diabetes. The American Diabetes Association recommends that all healthcare providers counsel patients who are at risk for or have diabetes regarding healthy dietary choices and physical activity. The researchers say that doctors may be missing opportunities to advise mentally patients about changes that could improve their quality of life, extend their lifespan, and prevent debilitating health conditions.
“It is important that providers counsel people in this population as early as possible about exercise and nutritional changes that reduce the risks associated with diabetes – before risk factors such as hypertension and high cholesterol manifest,” said Xiaoling Xiang, a doctoral candidate in social work. Conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension can be prevented or alleviated by modifications in lifestyle.
The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services’ Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, a survey that interviewed patients multiple times about their health and use of medical services during a two-year period provided the data for this research. The study participants were ages 18 to 70 years old.
- The participants are an increased risk for premature death
- Participants with mental illness symptoms who were not diagnosed with diabetes at the time of the study had an average of more than three diabetes risk factors, compared to 2.4 percent of peers
- 15.6 percent of the people in the data sample had symptoms of severe psychological stress compared to 7.9 percent of peers
- Participants with symptoms of mental illness had significantly higher rates for all clinical conditions than their counterparts
- More than 70 percent of the mentally ill participants had body mass indexes above 25, compared to 64.3 percent of peers
- 42.1 percent had hypertension compared to 25.6 of peers
- 42 percent had higher rates of hyperlipidemia compared to 30.6 percent of peers
- 29.7 percent had cardiovascular disease compared to 17.7 percent of peers
- The number of risk factors increased the likelihood that patients would receive lifestyle counselling
- Only 10.4 percent of patients with no diabetes risk factors receive dietary counseling
- Patients with the symptoms of mental illness had scored 13 or higher on a screening tool that is a strong indicator of mental illness
“Given the elevated risk for diabetes among individuals with symptoms of psychological distress, even greater numbers of clinicians in the study sample should have been providing lifestyle counseling,” Xiang said. “However, the increase in the rates of diabetes and diabetes risk factors seems to have outpaced the increase in the rates of provider advice for this population.”