Studies in Western societies have shown some evidence that growth in early life may be associated with suicide and suicidal ideation in later life. The pattern of growth retardation in developing countries is different from that in Western societies. This study examines the association between size at birth, postnatal growth from birth to age 24 months and suicidal ideation in 18-year-old Filipinos. The 1941 participants born in 1983 and 1984 in the Philippines were assessed for growth status bimonthly from birth to 24 months of age and were administered an interview in 2002, which included items on suicidal ideation.
The pattern of growth stunting in this cohort was similar to that in many other developing countries: a minor level of shortness in crown-heel length at birth followed by sharp decline in length-for-age in the first 24 months of life. The prevalence of suicidal ideation at age 18 was 2.9%; 95% confidence interval [CI] 2.2, 3.8%. Length Z-score at 24 months (odds ratios [OR] = 0.67; 95% CI [0.52, 0.86]; P = 0.002) and gain in length Z-score from birth to age 24 months (OR = 0.74; 95% CI [0.56, 0.98]; P = 0.037) were inversely associated with the odds of suicidal ideation. Adjustment for covariates made little difference. Length at birth Z-score was associated with suicidal ideation only after adjustment for postnatal length gain (OR = 0.61; 95% CI [0.46, 0.80]; P < 0.001). The associations between linear growth in early life and suicidal ideation appeared to be partly mediated by educational attainment. In conclusion, postnatal growth stunting is an important predictor of suicidal ideation in later life. It also affects the association between birth length and suicidal ideation.