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Korea still tops suicide rate among OECD countries

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By Jung Da-min

South Korea has the highest suicide rate among OECD member nations, the Ministry of Health and Welfare said Monday.

In the ministry's report, based on the OECD Health Statistics 2021 database issued in early July, Korea's suicide mortality rate, or the number of suicides per 100,000 people, was 24.7 in 2018.

The rate had been on the decrease, from 33.8 in 2009 to 23 in 2017, but rebounded to 24.7 in 2018.

The latest figure was more than double the OECD average of 11, and about 10 times higher than Turkey, which has the lowest rate of 2.6, according to the ministry.

Korea, which had been criticized for its high suicide rate, topping the OECD list since 2003, came down to second place in 2016 and 2017, only after Lithuania joined the OECD and ranked first. But Korea's rate has risen again and the country has taken first place once more.

Experts say the causes of suicide are complex, not only due to personal and mental health issues but also related to economic and social factors.

The report also showed that life expectancy in Korea was 83.3 years in 2019, slightly higher than the OECD average of 81.

The smoking rate and the annual consumption of alcoholic beverages among Koreans aged 15 and over were 16.4 percent and 8.3 liters, similar to the OECD averages of 16.4 percent and 8.8 liters.

The overweight and obesity rates of Koreans were relatively low among OECD countries.

In 2019, the percentage of the overweight and obese population aged 15 or over in Korea was 33.7 percent, the second-lowest after Japan at 27.2 percent, while the OECD average was 59.9 percent.

However, the proportion of the overweight and obese population in Korea has shown a gradual increase in the past decade, marking 30.5 percent in 2009, 30.8 percent in 2014 and 33.7 percent in 2019.

Korean people visited hospitals as outpatients 17.2 times per year in 2019, the highest rate in the OECD, with member nations averaging 6.8 hospital visits. Experts attributed this to people's relatively easy access to hospitals here and the nation's well-developed medical insurance system. Thus, patients' financial burden is lower here compared to in many other countries.

However, the number of doctors and nurses was low, because Korea had only 2.5 doctors per 1,000 people in 2019, lower than the OECD average of 3.6, along with 7.9 nurses and nurse's aides per 1,000 people, which was also lower than the OECD average of 9.4.


Jung Da-min damin.jung@koreatimes.co.kr


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