Tackling obesity in mental health secure units: a mixed method synthesis of available evidence [2018]

The prevalence and incidence of obesity are high in people with severe mental illness (SMI). In England, around 6000 people with SMI access care from secure mental health units. There is currently no specific guidance on how to reduce the risk of obesity-related morbidity and mortality in this population.

To identify international evidence that addresses the issue of obesity in mental health secure units.

A mixed method review of evidence (published 2000–2015) was carried out to assess obesity prevalence, intervention and policy change, as well as barriers to change.

Evidence from 22 mainly small, non-comparator studies (reported in 21 papers) using a range of methods was reviewed. Dietary, physical activity and cultural interventions being implemented within secure units to address the problem of obesity showed some promising outcomes for physical health and health education. These were facilitated by adequate organisational resources, staff training and motivated staff. Holistic interventions that included a social and/or competitive element were more likely to be taken up. Involving patients in decision-making mediated the tension between facilitating behaviour change and imposing control. Barriers to successful outcomes included patient movement in and out of units, severity of mental health condition and resistance to change by patients and staff.

Despite the promising outcomes reported, further assessment is needed of the feasibility, acceptability and effectiveness of interventions and policies targeting the obesogenic environment, using robust research methods.

Maxine Johnson, Matthew Day, Rajesh Moholkar, Paul Gilluley and Elizabeth Goyder

BJPsych Open, Volume 4, Issue 4 July 2018