Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Behavior, Psychology and Sociology

Perceived overweight and suicidality among US adolescents from 1999 to 2017

Abstract

Identifying oneself as overweight is a risk factor for poor mental health and suicidality independent from objective weight status. The stigma associated with heavier body weight has risen in recent decades and this may have exacerbated the detrimental mental health effects of perceived overweight. In this study, we examined the association between perceived overweight and suicidality in a nationally representative sample (N = 115,180) of US adolescents assessed from 1999 to 2017. We drew on data from the Youth Risk Behavior survey, a biennial population-based survey of students in grades 9–12. Suicidality was gauged by participant reports of past-year suicidal ideation, suicide plans, or suicide attempts. Across all waves, perceived overweight (vs. perceived “normal” weight) predicted a 7.7 percentage point (p < 0.001) increased risk of suicidality after adjustment for age, sex, ethnicity, and BMI. The risk of suicidality associated with perceived overweight increased from 5.7 percentage points in 1999–2001 to 10.1 points in 2015–2017, a difference of 4.4 points (p = 0.001). This growth was most evident after 2009 and was apparent across suicidality measures. Among US adolescents, perceiving one’s body as overweight increases risk of suicidality and this risk appears to have grown substantially from 2009 to 2017.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Perceived overweight (vs. perceived normal weight) and suicide outcomes from 1999–2017.

References

  1. 1.

    Luppino FS, de Wit LM, Bouvy PF, Stijnen T, Cuijpers P, Penninx BW, et al. Overweight, obesity, and depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010;62:220–9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Amiri S, Behnezhad S. Body mass index and risk of suicide: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Affect Disord. 2018;238:615–25.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Haynes A, Kersbergen I, Sutin A, Daly M, Robinson E. Does perceived overweight increase risk of depressive symptoms and suicidality beyond objective weight status? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clin Psychol Rev. 2019;73:101753.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Wu YK, Berry DC. Impact of weight stigma on physiological and psychological health outcomes for overweight and obese adults: a systematic review. J Adv Nurs. 2018;74:1030–42.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Emmer C, Bosnjak M, Mata J. The association between weight stigma and mental health: a meta‐analysis. Obes Rev. 2020;21:e12935.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Almond D, Lee A, Schwartz AE. Impacts of classifying New York City students as overweight. PNAS. 2016;113:3488–91.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Health and Social Care Information Centre. National child measurement programme—England 2012/13 school year. Leeds: Government Statistical Service; 2013.

    Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Andreyeva T, Puhl RM, Brownell KD. Changes in perceived weight discrimination among Americans, 1995–1996 through 2004–2006. Obesity. 2008;16:1129–34.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Tomiyama AJ, Finch LE, Belsky AC, Buss J, Finley C, Schwartz MB, et al. Weight bias in 2001 versus 2013: contradictory attitudes among obesity researchers and health professionals. Obesity. 2015;23:46–53.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Whitehead R, Berg C, Cosma A, Gobina I, Keane E, Neville F, et al. Trends in adolescent overweight perception and its association with psychosomatic health 2002–2014: evidence from 33 countries. J Adolesc Health. 2017;60:204–11.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Brener ND, Kann L, Shanklin S, Kinchen S, Eaton DK, Hawkins J, et al. Methodology of the youth risk behavior surveillance system—2013. Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2013;62:1–20.

    Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Long JS, Freese J. Regression models for categorical dependent variables using Stata. 3rd ed. College Station, TX: Stata Press; 2014.

  13. 13.

    Dutton GR, Bodell LP, Smith AR, Joiner TE. Examination of the relationship between obesity and suicidal ideation. Int J Obes. 2013;37:1282–6.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Eaton DK, Lowry R, Brener ND, Galuska DA, Crosby AE. Associations of body mass index and perceived weight with suicide ideation and suicide attempts among US high school students. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2005;159:513–9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Hunger JM, Major B, Blodorn A, Miller CT. Weighed down by stigma: how weight‐based social identity threat contributes to weight gain and poor health. Soc Personal Psychol Compass. 2015;9:255–68.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Hunger JM, Dodd DR, Smith AR. Weight-based discrimination, interpersonal needs, and suicidal ideation. Stigma Health. 2019. https://doi.org/10.1037/sah0000188.

  17. 17.

    Swahn MH, Reynolds MR, Tice M, Miranda-Pierangeli MC, Jones CR, Jones IR. Perceived overweight, BMI, and risk for suicide attempts: findings from the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. J Adolesc Health. 2009;45:292–5.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Brown DR, Blanton CJ. Physical activity, sports participation, and suicidal behavior among college students. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002;34:1087–96.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

The authors are grateful to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for their management of these data and for making them available at www.cdc.gov/yrbs (accessed on January 27th 2020). However, these organizations bear no responsibility for the analysis or interpretation of the data.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michael Daly.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

41366_2020_620_MOESM1_ESM.docx

Supplemental Material (Tables S1-S4)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Daly, M., Robinson, E. & Sutin, A.R. Perceived overweight and suicidality among US adolescents from 1999 to 2017. Int J Obes 44, 2075–2079 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41366-020-0620-9

Download citation

Further reading

Search

Quick links