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Body Mass Index and Suicide

Posted Mar 13 2009 3:40pm

On the heals of my last post, I thought I would highlight a recent question that was asked in the March 2009 Issue of Obesity Research Journal: Why is Body Mass Index (BMI) adversely related to suicide?"

Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States, but one of the two main causes of death related to anorexia nervosa (consequences of starvation being the other one). The risk of suicide for people with anorexia is 57 times greater than the risk for suicide in the general population.

Multiple studies have documented an inverse relationship between BMI and suicide. However, upon further investigation, it appears that studies support an inverse relationship between BMI and suicide deaths, but a positive relationship with suicide attempts. Reasons for this may be the association between extreme obesity and certain mental health disorders, such as panic disorder, substance use disorder (in males but not females), and major depression.

Of significance is other research  which demonstrates that one's perception of their body weight may be more important than their actual weight in terms of increased likelihood of suicidal behavior. According to these findings, it appears that regardless of body mass index, extreme perceptions of weight appear to be significant risk factors for suicidal behavior.

...Which leads us back to what we highlight here at Treatment Notes, namely the importance of adequate screening for and treatment of eating disorders, most of which share the component of body image disturbance, regardless of actual body weight. 

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