New study reveals link between suicide and body mass index
Press release issued: 14 December 2005
A new study has found a link between a person’s weight (body mass index (BMI) and their risk of suicide, after studying over a million Swedish men.
David Gunnell, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Bristol and co-author of the study, looked at the lifestyles of over one million Swedish men with the help of researchers from Sweden. Together they investigated records from the Swedish Military Conscription register, the Population and Housing Censuses, and the Cause of Death Register.
BMI measures a person’s weight in relation to their height (weight/height ratio). The men who had been conscripted between 1968-1999, had their weight and height measured at age 18-19 years and were followed up over a 31-year period. The study found that the risk of suicide rose by about 15 per cent for each five unit decrease in BMI. The researchers took into account factors that could have influenced the results such as socio-economic status. The research revealed that 3,000 individuals who committed suicide had a BMI significantly lower that those who did not kill themselves.
Professor David Gunnell, said: “We were quite surprised as there is a view that people who are overweight may be stigmatised and made to feel depressed.
“Our findings provide some support to the idea that fatter people are at a reduced risk of problems that lead to suicide. High BMI appears to be associated with lower suicide risk. However since a high BMI is also associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and other important causes of morbidity and mortality, we would not recommend interventions to increase BMI to prevent suicide or increase levels of happiness.”
P Magnusson, F Rasmussen, D Lawlor, P Tynelius, D Gunnell: ‘Association of Body Mass Index with Suicide Mortality: A Prospective Cohort Study of More than One Million Men.’