Loneliness Is Becoming A Bigger Health Threat, Study Says

Evrard Martin
Août 6, 2017

Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology, said, "Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need - crucial to both well-being and survival. Extreme examples show infants in custodial care who lack human contact fail to thrive and often die, and indeed, social isolation or solitary confinement has been used as a form of punishment", says Holt-Lunstad in an American Psychological Association press release.

In an effort to explain how loneliness could trump obesity as a health risk, Holt-Lunstad brought up two meta-analyses - not actual studies, but rather a combination of data across several studies - at this week's American Psychological Association convention. The first used 148 studies that involved over 300,000 participants. While the risks of the latter may outweigh that of the former in some ways, psychologists believe that loneliness and social isolation could pose a more serious overall danger to people, especially senior citizens.

The second study, involving 70 studies representing more than 3.4 million individuals from North America, Europe, Asia and Australia, examined the role that social isolation, loneliness or living alone might have on mortality.

These investigations revealed that all three had a significant and equal effect on the risk of premature death.

Putting things in context with regards to the effect of loneliness on one's health, obesity or being overweight kills at least 2.8 million adults each year. "Physiological arousal resulting from this process may play a role in the disrupted sleep of lonely individuals".

An increasing portion of the USA population now experiences isolation regularly. They have gathered robust evidence showing that being lonely increases the risk of premature death.

A Loneliness Study conducted by the AARP estimates that 42.6 million Americans over the age of 45 suffer from chronic loneliness.

"With an increasing aging population, the effect on public health is only anticipated to increase". Indeed, many nations around the world now suggest we are facing a "loneliness epidemic". In addition, the most recent USA census data reveals over a quarter of the population to be living alone, more than half of the population unmarried, declining marriage rates and number of children per household.

With the above findings showing how loneliness could potentially be more risky than obesity in terms of one's chances of premature death, Holt-Lunstad stressed that people in general should be armed with the right tools to prevent loneliness from becoming a problem later in life.

Moving forward, Holt-Lunstad hopes that health officials nationwide spend significant resources to help tackle the issues of loneliness and isolation.

Greater emphasis could be placed on social skills training for children in schools and doctors should be encouraged to include social connectedness in medical screening. Additionally, people should be preparing for retirement socially as well as financially, as many social ties are related to the workplace, she noted, adding that community planners should make sure to include shared social spaces that encourage gathering and interaction, such as recreation centres and community gardens.

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