Ever felt so lonely you could die? According to a new study, loneliness and social isolation is a greater public health problem for Americans than obesity. Researchers say people with a greater social connection cut their risk of premature death in half.
“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,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, professor of psychology at Brigham Young University. “Yet an increasing portion of the U.S. population now experiences isolation regularly.”
The study looked at the effects of social isolation, loneliness, and living alone on a person’s health for nearly four million people. Researchers reportedly found that all three factors had a significant effect on the risk of premature death and in some cases exceeded obesity as a major risk factor.
“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. “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.’ The challenge we face now is what can be done about it.”
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 Holt-Lunstad.