The dietary patterns of people with a mental illness who live in the community


Background: People with mental health problems are known to have nutritional and physical health risks. This is due to the effect of mood on food intake, the side-effects of psychotropic medications, such as obesity and constipation, and the social issues affecting their food intake, such as poverty, homelessness and lack of motivation to shop for and cook food. Little is known about the actual dietary intake of this population. This study aimed to 1) establish the dietary patterns of a sample of community based mentally ill people, 2) compare their dietary patterns with the general population, 3) identify whether they follow the recommended healthy eating guidelines and 4) establish whether they are a group who require targeting for dietary education to prevent diet related health problems developing in the future. Method: Twenty-two people with a mental illness, attending a local day centre, were weighed and questioned about their food intake, using a validated food frequency questionnaire. Results: An analysis of the food frequency questionnaires demonstrated that the diets of mentally ill people differed little from the diets of the general population. Diets were generally low in fibre, due to a low intake of fruit and wholegrain foods, and high in saturated fat due to the frequent consumption of pies, pastries, chips and full fat milk (particularly by females). Refined sugar intake was primarily derived from sugar added to tea and coffee rather than sugared soft drinks or sugar containing foods. Over half of the subjects were overweight, smoked or exceeded the recommended level for alcohol intake. Conclusion: This study demonstrated that although the diets of our sample of mentally ill people were similar to those consumed by the general population, their diets did not meet the government’s healthy eating recommendations, in order to prevent cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer. Our sample of mentally ill people was therefore predisposed to the same risks of disease as the general population. Dietary and healthy lifestyle education programmes are thus required and should be targeted at individuals in this population who are most nutritionally at risk. Unfortunately, we were unable to establish which individuals were most at nutritional risk due to the small sample size. Larger studies, which allow for sub grouping according to diagnosis and psychotropic medication, are required in order to establish whether they have an effect on dietary intake patterns.

How to Cite

Hoyle, A. & Hazzledine, J., (2004) “The dietary patterns of people with a mental illness who live in the community”, Mental Health and Learning Disabilities Research and Practice 1(1). doi:


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Anne Hoyle
Julie Hazzledine






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This article has been peer reviewed.

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