Body Weight and Suicidal Behavior in Adolescent Females: The Role of Self-Perceptions

Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Lobby (Annenberg Center)

Author(s): Travis Minor; Mir M. Ali

Discussant: Olga Yakusheva

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents and recent data indicate that the suicide rate, particularly for young girls, is increasing. Excess body weight among adolescents has also been documented widely over the last two decades and is considered one of the most pressing public health concerns today.  Previous literature has examined the relationship between actual body weight and suicidal behavior, but there is little evidence on self-perception of weight and suicidal behaviors.

The study explores the relationship, not only between actual weight status and suicidal behaviors, but also between self-perception of weight and suicidal behaviors. Using data from a nationally-representative sample of female adolescents in the United States, the study ascertains the effect of body weight status on suicidal behaviors by estimating endogeneity-corrected models including school-level fixed effects to account for bi-directionality and unobserved confounders. The results suggest that both self-perceived and measured weight status (overweight or obese) increase a female adolescent’s probability of suicidal ideation, with self-perceived weight status causing a larger increase in suicidal ideation.