PURPOSE: Preventing adolescent suicide is a global priority. Inequalities in adolescent suicide and attempt rates are reported across countries, including a greater risk in adolescents experiencing food insecurity. Little is known about the extent to which country-level contextual factors moderate the magnitude of socio-economic inequalities in suicidal thoughts and behavior. We aimed to examine the cross-country variability and national moderators of the association between food insecurity and suicidal thoughts and behavior in school-attending adolescents.

METHODS: We analysed data on 309,340 school-attending adolescents from 83 countries that participated in the Global School-based Student Health Survey between 2003 and 2018. We used Poisson regression to identify whether suicidal thoughts and behavior were more prevalent in adolescents experiencing food insecurity compared to food-secure adolescents. Meta-regression and mixed-effects regression were used to determine whether country-level indicators moderated the magnitude of inequality.

RESULTS: Suicidal ideation, suicide planning, and suicide attempts were more prevalent in food-insecure adolescents compared to food-secure adolescents in 72%, 78%, and 90% of countries respectively; however, the magnitude of these associations varied between countries. We observed wider inequalities in countries with greater levels of national wealth and universal health coverage and lower prevalence of adolescent food insecurity. Economic inequality had no moderating role.

DISCUSSION: Food insecurity could contribute to the development of adolescent suicidal thoughts and behavior, and this association is likely to be moderated by country-level context. Food insecurity may be a modifiable target to help prevent adolescent suicide, especially in countries where food insecurity is less common.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Dec 2023

Cite this