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Objectives

Associations between BMI and suicide risks and methods for individuals receiving care in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) health system were evaluated.

Design and Methods

For 4,005,640 patients in fiscal years 2001-2002, multivariable survival analyses assessed associations between BMI and suicide, through FY2009. Covariates included demographics, psychiatric, and nonpsychiatric diagnoses, receipt of VHA mental health encounters, and regional network. Among suicide decedents, multivariable Generalized Estimating Equations (GEE) regression examined associations between BMI and suicide method.

Results

1.3% of patients were underweight, 24.3% normal weight, 40.6% overweight, and 33.8% obese. Underweight was associated with increased suicide risk (adjusted hazard ratio [AHR] = 1.17, 95% CI: 1.01, 1.36) compared to normal. Overweight and obese status were associated with lower risk (AHR = 0.78, 95% CI: 0.74, 0.82; AHR = 0.63, 95% CI: 0.60, 0.66, respectively). Among suicide decedents, high lethality methods were most common among underweight and least common among obese individuals. Adjusting for covariates, BMI was not associated with method lethality, yet some associations were observed between BMI and specific methods.

Conclusion

Among VHA patients, BMI was negatively associated with suicide risks. These differences may partly relate to choice of suicide method. Low BMI offers an additional resource for clinical suicide risk assessments.