Christoph U. Correll, MD, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in the Bronx, N.Y., and his colleagues found that children and adolescents who take the drugs, known as atypical antipsychotics, gain an average of 10 to 19 pounds in the first few months, depending on which drug they are prescribed.
“That’s a lot of weight to acquire very rapidly,” notes Christopher K. Varley, MD, of Seattle Children’s Hospital, who wasn’t involved in the study but co-wrote an accompanying editorial.
The findings were published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Use of atypical antipsychotics in children has increased fivefold since the early 1990s. Prescriptions for one drug, risperidone (Risperdal), were up 10% in 2007. That year, 389,000 children and teens nationwide were prescribed the drug, and 240,000 of those were 12 or younger, according to information presented to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel in 2008.
At the same time, more children are being diagnosed with bipolar disorder than in the past. Although experts agree that the medications can help some young patients (for example, bipolar children who have severe manic episodes or autistic kids who endanger themselves and others with violent behavior), many question their widespread use for other conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The new findings suggest that these medications could have lasting consequences for young patients, in the form of weight problems (including obesity), heart disease, and diabetes.
Families already under the stress of coping with a young one’s mental illness may have a particularly hard time helping their child maintain a healthy weight, says Dr. Varley.
According to Dr. Varley and his co-editorialist, Jon McClellan, MD, of the University of Washington, in Seattle, “these results challenge the widespread use of atypical antipsychotic medications in youth.”