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Effect of sex and age on the association between suicidal behaviour and obesity in Korean adults: a cross-sectional nationwide study

02 Jun 2016


To examine the hypothesis that the relationship between obesity and the risk of suicidal behaviour would differ according to sex and age.


Data from the 2007–2012 Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (KNHANES) were used.


36 211 adults with body mass index (BMI) data were included and the mean age was 49.6 years.

Independent variable


Primary and secondary outcome measures

Suicide ideation and attempts.

Design and analysis

A cross-sectional study was performed. Multiple logistic regressions after controlling for socioeconomic variables and concomitant diseases were applied to see the relationship between obesity level and suicidal ideation or attempt.


Women with severe obesity had the highest prevalence of suicide attempts and ideation, whereas among males, underweight men had the highest prevalence. After adjustment, obese men had a lower OR for suicide ideation (OR=0.87, 95% CI 0.76 to 1.00). Among women, the ORs of severely obese and underweight women were 1.27 (95% CI 1.06 to 1.52) and 1.24 (95% CI 1.06 to 1.45), respectively. When grouped by age category, the ORs for suicide ideation in severely obese women aged 18 to <30 years or attempts in severely obese women aged 30 to <50 years were 2.30 (95% CI 1.36 to 3.89) and 3.07 (95% CI 1.50 to 6.31), respectively. However, overweight and obese women aged more than 50 years exhibited significantly less ORs of suicide ideation, when compared with counterparts of normal weight.


The association between obesity and suicidal behaviour exhibited a different pattern by sex and age in South Korea. In particular, severely obese young women had a substantial risk of suicidal behaviour. Our study results highlighted the importance of obesity management in the prevention of suicide among young women, and may be helpful for the drafting of the health agenda in Asian countries with an obesity prevalence and culture similar to those in Korea.

Click here to view the full article which appeared in BMJ Open