New research presented at a meeting of the American Diabetes Association revealed that children and adolescents taking atypical antipsychotics for a period of three months experienced significant increase in body fat and other metabolic abnormalities.

Adult studies of the effects of antipsychotics increase the risk for cardiovascular disease and even death, but the effect these drugs have on children is still relatively unknown and not very well studied. This fact is especially alarming considering the ever-increasing number of children being prescribed such drug therapies for the treatment of non-psychotic disorders such as ADHD and autism.

As a result, University of Washington’s John Newcomer, M.D. and his colleagues recently conducted the Metabolic Effects of Antipsychotics in Children (MEAC) study. The researchers studied a group of 220 children, ages 6 to 18, who were randomized to receive 12 weeks of Abilify, Zyprexa or Risperdal drug therapies as treatment for disruptive behavior disorders. None of the children in the study had previously been treated with any antipsychotic medications.

Overall, the study revealed a significant increase in body fat, as well as a substantial decline in insulin sensitivity over a period of three months. It was also noted that the greatest changes were seen in the youngest children.

The study’s findings shine a spotlight on the importance of managing the risks and benefits associated with prescribing antipsychotics to children. Newcomer suggested that physicians can help to achieve a balance by selecting which patients will experience the greatest impact from which medications.

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