Beware! Studies suggest that people who live in social isolation are more prone to die earlier compared to obese people.
Researchers conducted two meta-analyses, the first involved 3,00,000 participants and found that greater social connection is associated with a 50 percent reduced risk of early death. The second study, involving more than 3.4 million individuals primarily from North America but also from Europe, Asia and Australia found that social isolation, loneliness or living alone had a significant and equal effect on the risk of premature death.
Study author Julianne Holt-Lunstad from Brigham Young University 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.
Holt-Lunstad added that an increasing portion of the U.S. population now experiences isolation regularly. Approximately 42.6 million adults over age 45 in the United States are estimated to be suffering from chronic loneliness. In addition, the most recent U.S. census data shows more than a quarter of the population lives alone, more than half of the population is unmarried and since the previous census, marriage rates and the number of children per household have declined.
These trends suggest that Americans are becoming less socially connected and experiencing more loneliness, said the researchers. “There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators,” said Holt-Lunstad.
The researchers recommended a greater priority be placed on research and resources to tackle this public health threat from the societal to the individual level. 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. The research was presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.
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