, Volume 127, Issue 4, pp 847-856
Date: 09 Nov 2012

Anthropometrical differences between suicide and other non-natural death circumstances: an autopsy study

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In international epidemiological studies, associations between suicides and body height, or body mass index (BMI) were found. Because of the recently growing number of suicides in Germany, a closer look on different anthropometric measures of suicide victims autopsied at the Institute of Forensic Medicine of the Goethe-University in Frankfurt/Main, Germany, was taken.


A retrospective analysis of 1,271 non-natural death cases autopsied between 2006 and 2010 was performed. A total of 566 other than suicide (control group) and 245 suicide cases (study group) with a given body height and weight aged between 18 and 96 years were examined.


Body mass indices of the 18–59-year-old male and 60–79-year-old female suicide victims were significantly lower. Old-aged women who committed suicide exhibited beside a significant lower body mass a significantly slender body shape measured as smaller pelvic circumference, waist circumference, and waist-to-tallness ratio. Self-poisoning was by far the leading suicide method in both genders. The victims of the suicide method hanging were the youngest on average, and this method was most common in the male underweight and female lightly normal weight BMI categories, whereas old, overweight, and obese men killed themselves predominantly with firearms.


The analysis showed that body measures of suicide cases in comparison to other non-natural death circumstance cases differ. For criminal procedural reasons, all suicide cases should be autopsied. But high autopsy rates are also needed for scientific research and to ensure a high level of patient safety.