Teenagers who are overweight, or believe they are, appear to be at higher risk of suicide, according to a new study published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health. This was found to be the same for girls and boys.
While the research results certainly can’t be said to be reliably predictive of any one teenager’s suicide risk, the study does help to support the view that teenagers with real or perceived weight problems should be particularly assessed for depression and suicidal thoughts – and that all teens should ideally be screened. Teenagers with depression and/or suicidal thoughts should then be referred for psychotherapy geared to these issues, and medically evaluated for possibly discernible physiological causes and treatments. The study included 14,000 US high school students, their body mass indexes (BMI) and beliefs concerning whether of not they are overweight, along with the rate of suicide attempts within the group. The analyses controlled for demographics and possible confounding variables.
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 was the lead researcher. “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 in a news release.
Swahn points out that the rate of teen obesity in the US is growing and reminds us of the importance of self-image in the adolescent years. Development of the adolescent is more reliant on positive acceptance by peers than at any other time of life. That development is also more reliant on peers than on family, teachers or others. News of the link between overweight, perceived overweight and suicide may be particularly important information in modernized cultures where the mass media actively promotes being thin as hip, fashionable or, otherwise, as healthy and physically fit – sometimes even as an indication of personal virtuosity. Attention to how we communicate concerns about teenagers’ body weight and body image, and promote fitness and positive body image, is merited.
This is a challenging prospect since we don’t want to inadvertently promote being overweight among teens. It’s probably a task best achieved by a well-considered, multi-pronged public education initiative that involves teens, parents, schools, health providers, government and media. In the meantime, personal mindfulness of our messages to teens about weight and the factors that support fitness, health and beauty are in order. Most certainly called for is provision of opportunity and encouragement for teen participation in any of the numerous ways of achieving self-esteem not based on image, such as social functions, arts, sports, and so on.
Preidt, Robert. Worries about weight are tied to teen suicide tries, Center for the Advancement of Health. News release to HealthDay, May 18, 2009, id=626771, published online in HONnews
Swahn, Monica H., Reynolds, Melissa Tice, C. Miranda-Pierangeli, Maria, Jones, Courtney R. and Jones, India R. Perceived overweight, BMI, and risk for suicide attempts: Findings from the 2007 youth risk behavior survey. Journal of Adolescent Health. Society for Adolescent Medicine Published by Elsevier Inc. May 18, 2009
© Copyright 2009 by Jolyn Wells-Moran, PhD, MSW, therapist in Seattle, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.