Children at risk: the association between perceived weight status and suicidal thoughts and attempts in middle school youth

Lauren M Whetstone, Susan L Morrissey, Doyle M Cummings
Journal of School Health 2007, 77 (2): 59-66; quiz 98-9

BACKGROUND: Suicide is one of the most common causes of death among young people. A report from the US Surgeon General called for strategies to prevent suicide, including increasing public awareness of suicide and risks factors, and enhancing research to understand risk and protective factors. Weight perception has been linked to depression and poor self-esteem in adolescents. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between perceived weight status and suicidal thoughts and actions by gender in middle school youth.

METHODS: All public middle school students in 4 eastern North Carolina counties presented, and with parental permission (n = 5174), completed the Youth Risk Behavior Survey: Middle School Questionnaire. The 3 dependent variables were self-reported thinking, planning, and attempting suicide. Bivariate analyses describe suicidal thoughts and actions; multiple logistic regression models examined the relationship between weight description and suicidal thoughts and actions controlling for age, race, household composition, grades on report cards, and parents' education.

RESULTS: Significantly more females than males reported thinking (26% vs 19%), planning (12% vs 9%), and attempting (11% vs 8%) suicide. For females, those who perceived themselves as overweight were significantly more likely to report suicidal thoughts and actions; while for males, perceptions of overweight and underweight were significantly associated with suicidal thoughts and actions.

CONCLUSIONS: Controlling for personal and family characteristics, perceived weight status was significantly associated with suicidal thoughts and actions in middle school boys and girls.

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