Social Isolation Commonly Linked To Early Death, Called “Loneliness Epidemic”
Research presented at the American Psychological Association’s 125th annual convention found that the personal impact of loneliness and social isolation is a public health threat – perhaps even more so than obesity.
Juliane Holt-Lunstad, PhD., professor of psychology at Brigham Young University:
“Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need — crucial to both well-being and survival.”
“Yet an increasing portion of the U.S. population now experiences isolation regularly.”
Indeed, a recent study from AARP revealed that as many as 42.6 million adults over 45 in the U.S. are suffering from chronic loneliness.
Also, the newest U.S. census data shows that more than one-in-four of the population lives alone, more than half the population is unmarried, and marriage rates and the number of children per household have decreased since the last census.
To explain the effects of loneliness and social isolation on the risk for premature death, Holt-Lunstad presented findings from two meta-analyses. The first included 218 studies representing over 300,000 subjects and revealed that greater social connection is linked to a 50% reduction in risk of premature death.
The second included 70 studies representative of over 3.4 million people from North America, as well as Asia, Australia, and Europe. The effect of social isolation and loneliness or living alone on mortality was examined, and it was found that all three had a significant role in the onset of early death – and one that was equal to or greater than other accepted factors, such as obesity.
Holt-Lunstad went on to say that there is “robust evidence” that social isolation and loneliness “significantly increase risk for premature mortality” and that “the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators.”
She also stressed than many world nations believe we may be facing a “loneliness epidemic.”
Holt-Lunstad recommended that a higher priority should be placed on research to battle social isolation as a public health threat – from both the individual level and society as a whole. For example, more emphasis could be placed on training in social skills for children in schools, and health care providers should be urged to add a social connectedness evaluations to medical screenings.
Also, individuals should be preparing for retirement socially (not just financially) and that the government include social connectivity directives for community planners, who should develop shared social areas to encourage personal interaction (i.e. recreational centers.)
Overall, the investigation revealed that 50% of patients who experience loneliness die earlier than their more social counterparts, in comparison to the obese, whose rate of early death was raised by 30%.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology