Worries About Weight Are Tied to Teen Suicide Tries

Even those who only think they're fat face higher risk, study finds

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MONDAY, May 18, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Overweight teens, or those who believe they are, are more likely than other teens to attempt suicide, according to a U.S. study.

Researchers looked at more than 14,000 high school students to determine if there's a link between suicide attempts and body mass index (BMI), as well as a teen's belief that he or she might be overweight -- whether it's true or not.

The study found that teens who were overweight and those who believed they were overweight were more likely to attempt suicide than those who weren't and those who didn't believe they were overweight. The findings were equally strong for girls and boys.

The study appears online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

"Our findings show that both perceived and actual overweight increase risk for suicide attempt," the study's lead author, Monica Swahn, an associate dean for research at the College of Health and Human Sciences and an associate professor in the Institute of Public Health at Georgia State University, said in a news release from the school.

"This is a major concern since more and more children and youth are becoming overweight and obese," she said.

A better understanding of the link between weight issues and suicide risk in teens can help in the development of appropriate strategies for suicide prevention, according to the researchers.

"We cannot only focus prevention strategies on those who are overweight and who are concerned about their weight, but we also need to include youth who feel that they are overweight even though they may not be," Swahn said. She added that teens "feel very pressured to fit in and to fit certain limited ideals of beauty."

Dr. Hatim Omar, chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine at the University of Kentucky, said in the news release that the study "adds another wake-up call to providers, parents, teachers and society about the need for screening for depression and suicide risk in all teens, with special attention to teens with perceived or actual obesity."

More information

Mental Health America has more about teen suicide.

SOURCE: Center for the Advancement of Health, news release, May 18, 2009

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