How much does loneliness and social isolation affect our life expectancy?
Can loneliness and social isolation pose a threat to people's life expectancy? Researchers have now found that loneliness significantly increases mortality and even exceeds the magnitude of the risk of health problems from obesity.
Unfortunately there are more and more people today who suffer from loneliness in their lives. In their study, scientists from Brigham Young University found that isolation and loneliness are important factors when it comes to impairing life expectancy. The doctors published the results of their investigation in the journal "PLOS Medicine".
More and more people live alone
Overweight and obesity are unfortunately widespread in today's society. The effects of weight problems can be so severe that they can even lead to death. The effects of loneliness and social isolation are comparably serious, the authors of the new study report. Also, more and more people in the United States would live alone, fewer and fewer people would get married, and fewer children would be born.
Social isolation and loneliness lead to a shortened life expectancy
Being socially connected with other people is widely regarded as a basic human need for well-being and survival, explains author Julianne Holt-Lunstad from Brigham Young University. There is "robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase the risk of premature mortality," added the expert.
What impact does an intact strong relationship have on life expectancy?
By studying social relationships, health status and causes of mortality, the team was able to quantify a difference between socially isolated people and those with stronger social ties. People with a strong social relationship had a 50 percent chance of living longer than the isolated subjects.
Effects of loneliness are huge
The magnitude of the observed effect exceeds many known risk factors for mortality. These include, for example, obesity and physical inactivity. Several results from other studies were evaluated for the study. Particular attention was paid to how many people die lonely, are socially isolated or live completely alone. All of these factors lead to an increased probability of mortality of around 26 to 32 percent, the experts explain.
Loneliness can lead to mental health problems and cardiovascular diseases
There is increasing awareness of the negative health effects of loneliness and social isolation. For example, the results of previous studies had already shown that there is an increased risk of psychological problems and cardiovascular diseases in people living alone.
More and more people live in loneliness
In the United States, more than a quarter of people live alone. Similar trends have been observed in other countries around the world, such as India and the UK, where loneliness is particularly acute in the elderly, the scientists explain. With an aging population, the impact on public health can only be estimated, adds Holt-Lunstad.
How can we deal with loneliness?
There is a kind of loneliness epidemic in many countries and the challenge is to develop successful methods to deal with it. "We need to take collective action to tackle loneliness as a public health threat, for example by offering social skills training for children at school," the researchers say. At the individual level, we should pay attention to our relationships. To cope with loneliness, we should improve the quality of our relationships by improving intimacy with the people around us, the experts advise. (as)