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17 January 2008
Short Birth Length Increases Risk Of Suicide
by George Atkinson

The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health reports that short male babies run more than double the risk of a violent suicide attempt as an adult. And the researchers add that "catch up" growth during childhood does not lessen the impact of short stature at birth.

The study tracked more than 300,000 Swedish men born between 1973 and 1980 from birth to the date of attempted suicide, death, emigration, or the end of 1999; whichever came first. The researchers found that short babies of less than 47 cm (18.5 inches) in length were more likely to attempt suicide as adults, no matter what height they reached in adulthood, compared with normal length babies.

Interestingly, the study also showed that men who were normal length babies, but who were short in adult life were 56 percent more likely than tall men to attempt to take their own lives. The taller a man was, the less likely he was to attempt suicide, the findings showed.

Being underweight was also a factor, and men who were born prematurely, and therefore short and underweight, were more than four-times as likely to attempt violent suicide as those born after a normal pregnancy.

The authors suggest that the brain chemical serotonin may be a factor. Serotonin is crucial to brain development and low levels are contributors to impulsivity, aggression, and suicidal behavior. Serotonin levels may be affected by premature birth and other factors restricting growth in the womb, the researchers conclude.

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Source: British Medical Journal

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