Extreme eating disorders are a known risk for suicide in young people, but the risk remains high even with less extreme weight control behaviour. This is the result of a study about suicidal behaviour in adolescents and its relationship to weight status, weight control behaviours, and body dissatisfaction.
More than four thousand boys and girls have been surveyed by researchers of the University of Minnesota. Only in boys, extreme weight control behaviours such as vomiting or excessive fasting has been linked to substantially higher odds of suicide thoughts and suicide attempts than less extreme weight control such as eating less or skipping meals. In girls, no big difference has been detected between extreme and less extreme weight control: both increased the odds of suicide thoughts and attempts to a similar extent. Body dissatisfaction showed quite exactly the same link to suicide as less extreme weight control in boys as well as in girls; it is no surprise at all that weight control goes together with bad feelings about the own body. After all, changing the body appearance is the only plausible reason for weight control.
One explanation of these results could have been that depression is the real cause of suicidal behaviour and that also weight control behaviour is an outcome of depression. But even after controlling for depression, a strong link between weight control and suicide behaviours remains.
Interestingly, the body mass index did not show any link to suicide. Therefore, only feeling fat but not being fat is linked to a suicide risk in young people. And it seems that many of those feeling fat are not really fat. This is a reason for concern about public weight loss messages.
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