Study: Loneliness increases risk of dying more than obesity

Kentucky Health News

Loneliness increases your chance of dying, according to a study by Brigham Young University and published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science. It found that the subjective feeling of loneliness increases risk of death by 26 percent, social isolation increases mortality risk 29 percent and living alone, 32 percent.

“The heightened risk for mortality from a lack of social relationships is greater than that from obesity,” the study report says.

“This is something that we need to take seriously for our health,” Julianne Holt-Lunstad, an author of the study, told Justin Worland of Time magazine. “This should become a public-health issue.” 

The researchers noted the difference between feelings of loneliness and the state of being socially isolated or alone and found that “both are potentially damaging.”  Even those who said they were happy being alone had an increased risk of death, as did those who had many social connections, but said they were lonely. And though more conclusive data is needed,  those who felt lonely and were alone “may be at the greatest risk of death,” Holt-Lunstad told Worland,

“If we just tell people to interact with more people, that might solve the social-isolation issue, but it might not solve the loneliness issue,” she told Worland. “I think we need to acknowledge that both of these components are important.”

Research shows that relationships improves health by “helping us manage stress, improving the functioning of the immune system and giving meaning to people’s lives,” Worland writes.

But with more Americans living alone than ever before and technology like texting and social media minimizing “flesh and blood” social connections, opportunities for loneliness and social isolation have increased.

Holt-Lunstad  told Worland that policy interventions for this issue might be difficult, but suggested that health-care providers need to begin identifying at-risk patients and communities need to re-think how neighborhoods are designed to help combat this problem.

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