Loneliness More Dangerous Than Obesity

Loneliness More Dangerous Than Obesity

Obesity has become a major public health concern, affecting more than a third of adults in the United States. New research, however, suggests that there are two bigger threats: loneliness and social isolation.

Two new meta-analyses from Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, UT, reveal that loneliness and social isolation may increase the risk of premature death by up to 50 percent.

Study co-author Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at BYU, and colleagues recently presented their findings at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, held in Washington, D.C.

While loneliness and social isolation are often used interchangeably, there are notable differences between the two. Social isolation is defined as a lack of contact with other individuals, while loneliness is the feeling that one is emotionally disconnected from others. In essence, a person can be in the presence of others and still feel lonely.

According to a 2016 Harris Poll of more than 2,000 adults in the U.S., around 72 percent reported having felt lonely at some point in their lives. Of these adults, around 31 percent reported feeling lonely at least once a week.

Loneliness and social isolation have both been associated with poor health. One study reported by Medical News Today last year, for example, suggested that loneliness may be linked to Alzheimer's disease, while other research linked social isolation to reduced survival for breast cancer patients.

For this latest research, Prof. Holt-Lunstad and team sought to determine how loneliness and social isolation influence the risk of early death.
'Robust evidence' that loneliness kills

The researchers came to their findings by conducting two meta-analyses of studies that looked at the link between loneliness, social isolation, and mortality.

The first meta-analysis included more than 300,000 adults across 148 studies, while the second comprised 70 studies involving more than 3.4 million adults.

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