Posts tagged: loneliness

Loneliness Can Kill More People Than Obesity

Loneliness Can Kill More People Than Obesity
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Obesity is a serious public health concern in our current era, characterized by fast foods, home delivery, and Netflix binge-watching – and it’s only getting worse. [1] However, a new study claims that there is an even bigger threat than being overweight – loneliness!

Here’s the thing; humans evolved as social beings. Our pre-historic ancestors lived and hunted in small cohesive groups. Fast forward thousands of years to the 21st Century, social connections are still vital to our survival and well-being.

Health Risk Associated With Social Isolation And Loneliness

Loneliness refers to the feeling of disconnection from society, while social isolation is the literal lack of contact with other people.

According to a 2014 survey [2] by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), loneliness directly affected over 42 million (35%) of citizens above 45 years. It’s hardly surprising if, during periods of enforced isolation, these numbers will be higher. Read on for a list of some health risks associated with social isolation and loneliness:

• Premature Death: A comprehensive meta-analysis [3] published in the Journal of Perspectives and Psychological Science claimed that social isolation increases the risk of premature death by up to 50%

• Negative Impact on Mental Health: Some research studies [4] suggest that loneliness and social isolation significantly increase the risk of depression, decreased cognitive abilities, and even Alzheimer’s disease.

• Impact on Cardiovascular Health: Stress associated with loneliness, is believed to elevate the levels of cortisol in your body. A study [5] presented in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences claims that this hormone, in turn, increases the risk of hypertension, stroke, and cardiovascular disease by contributing to inflammation.

Major Study Claims Loneliness is More Fatal Than Obesity

A significant study [6] presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association suggested that social connection reduces the risk of premature death by up to 50%. In comparison, a 2016 study [7] suggested that obesity increases the risk of death by 45%.

The researchers arrived at this conclusion after reviewing over 148 studies (representing over 300,000 respondents) in one meta-analysis – and 70 studies (representing 3.4 million people) in another. Lead author, Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad from Brigham Young University stated that the evidence was “robust” that that loneliness and social isolation caused a significant increase in risk of premature death that was equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes daily or alcohol-related disorders!

The author went on to claim that we are nearly looking at a loneliness “epidemic” due to the increasing aging population. And this was before the events of 2020! Whether this sounds like an exaggeration or not, one thing’s clear; loneliness is detrimental to our health – and it should at least receive the same public attention as obesity and other leading health indicators.

References:

[1] Sellgren, K. (2019). Children ‘less active over the primary years’. https://www.bbc.com/news/education-50388664

[2] Anderson, G. (2014). Loneliness Among Older Adults: A National Survey of Adults 45+. https://www.aarp.org/research/topics/life/info-2014/loneliness_2010.html

[3] Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., Baker, M., Harris, T., & Stephenson, D. (2015). Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: a meta-analytic review. Perspectives on psychological science, 10(2), 227-237. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25910392/

[4] Holwerda, T. J., Deeg, D. J., Beekman, A. T., van Tilburg, T. G., Stek, M. L., Jonker, C., & Schoevers, R. A. (2014). Feelings of loneliness, but not social isolation, predict dementia onset: results from the Amsterdam Study of the Elderly (AMSTEL). J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry, 85(2), 135-142. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23232034/

[5] Cohen, S., Janicki-Deverts, D., Doyle, W. J., Miller, G. E., Frank, E., Rabin, B. S., & Turner, R. B. (2012). Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(16), 5995-5999. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3341031/

[6] Holt-Lunstad, J. (2017, August). Loneliness: A Growing Public Health Threat. In 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, Session (Vol. 3328, pp. 3-3). https://www.apa.org/members/content/holt-lunstad-loneliness-social-connections

[7] Di Angelantonio, E., Bhupathiraju, S. N., Wormser, D., Gao, P., Kaptoge, S., de Gonzalez, A. B., … & Lewington, S. (2016). Body-mass index and all-cause mortality: individual-participant-data meta-analysis of 239 prospective studies in four continents. The Lancet, 388(10046), 776-786. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)30175-1/fulltext