Gender and race disparities in weight gain among offenders prescribed antidepressant and antipsychotic medications

Madison L. Gates, Thad Wilkins, Elizabeth Ferguson, Veronica Walker, Robert K. Bradford, Wonsuk Yoo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Studies have found that antipsychotics and antidepressants are associated with weight gain and obesity, particularly among women and some minority groups. Incarcerated populations (also referred to as offenders, prisoners or inmates) have a high prevalence of mental health problems and 15 % of offenders have been prescribed medications. Despite rates of antidepressant and antipsychotic use, investigations of weight gain and obesity in regard to these agents seldom have included offenders. Methods: This retrospective descriptive study (2005–2011) was conducted with a Department of Corrections in the east south central United States to investigate the relationship between antidepressant and antipsychotic agents, weight gain, obesity and race or gender differences. We sampled adult offenders who had an active record, at least two weight observations and height data. Offenders were classified into one of four mutually exclusive groups depending upon the type of medication they were prescribed: antidepressants, antipsychotics, other medications or no pharmacotherapy. Results: The sample population for this study was 2728, which was 25.2 % of the total population. The population not on pharmacotherapy had the lowest baseline obesity rate (31.7 %) compared to offenders prescribed antipsychotics (43.6 %), antidepressants (43.6 %) or other medications (45.1 %). Offenders who were prescribed antidepressants or antipsychotics gained weight that was significantly different from zero, p <.001 and p =.019, respectively. Women in the antidepressant group gained 6.4 kg compared to 2.0 kg for men, which was significant (p =.007). Although women in the antipsychotic group gained 8.8 kg compared to 1.6 kg for men, the finding was not significant (p =.122). Surprisingly, there were no significant differences in weight gain between African Americans and Whites in regard to antidepressants (p =.336) or antipsychotic agents (p =.335). Conclusion: This study found that women and men offenders prescribed antidepressant or antipsychotic agents gained weight during their incarceration. Women prescribed antidepressants gained significantly more weight than men. However, there was no significant difference in weight gain between African Americans and Whites. Results suggest further investigation is needed to understand the effect of medication history, metabolic syndrome and to explain gender disparities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number6
JournalHealth and Justice
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Antidepressive
  • Antipsychotic
  • Body mass index
  • Mental health
  • Obesity
  • Prisoners

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Law


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