A new study finds women with mental health concerns are as successful losing weight as other women.

The results are important and encouraging as women with a depression diagnosis have often been disqualified from participation in weight loss programs.

Evette Ludman, PhD studied 190 female Group Health patients age 40 to 65 with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more: 65 with major depressive disorder and 125 without it.

The women had not been seeking treatment, but they enrolled in a one-year behavioral weight loss intervention involving 26 group sessions.

The intervention, developed at the University of Minnesota over the past 20 years, has proven at least as good as any other currently available nonmedical treatment.

Some previous research had hinted that depression might worsen outcomes in behavioral weight loss programs. That’s why trials of weight loss interventions typically exclude people with major depression.

“We expected women with major depression to lose less weight, attend fewer sessions, eat more calories, and get less exercise than those without depression,” Dr. Ludman said.

“We were surprised to find no significant differences between the women who had depression and those who did not have it.” Women had lost around the same amount of weight at 6 months (8 or 9 pounds) and 12 months (7 or 8 pounds), with no significant differences between the groups with and without depression.

“Instead, what made a difference was just showing up,” she said. Women who attended at least 12 sessions lost more weight (14 pounds at 6 months, and 11 pounds at 12 months) than did those who attended fewer sessions (4 pounds at both 6 and 12 months), regardless of whether they had depression. Being depressed didn’t lead them to attend fewer sessions or lose less weight.

“Because of our findings and the well-documented health risks of obesity, we think rigorous efforts should be taken to engage and retain all women in need of such services in intensive weight loss programs,” Dr. Ludman said.

The study is found in the winter 2009 journal Behavioral Medicine.

Source: Group Health Cooperative Center for Health Studies