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Loneliness, Social Isolation Associated with Increased Risk for Early Mortality

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Loneliness, Social Isolation Associated with Increased Risk for Early Mortality

By Meghan Ross

Sad girlLiving alone and feelings of isolation and loneliness were associated with an increased risk for early death in a new study, which was published in Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Social interaction, the researchers posited, may benefit not only individuals’ emotional well-being but also their physical health.

The researchers pointed to previous research that has shown social isolation and loneliness to be associated with poorer health behaviors (e.g., smoking, inactivity, bad sleep habits), worse immune functioning, and higher blood pressure.

In their own research, the study authors examined published and unpublished studies related to mortality and social relationships; they specifically looked for whether the individuals involved in the studies felt lonely or isolated, or they lived alone. The 70 studies that met their criteria encompassed almost 3.5 million individuals.

The researchers found that these 3 factors, whether measured objectively or subjectively, were associated with a higher chance of mortality. The increased likelihood of death was 32% for living alone, 29% for social isolation, and 26% for reported loneliness, after accounting for several covariates, according to the researchers.

Causation could not be proved, but the study authors found that people with these 3 factors were more likely to be deceased at a follow-up, regardless of age, wealth, and length of follow-up.

The researchers posited that there is evidence now that the risk for mortality due to a lack of social relationships may be greater than the risk due to obesity.

They found that while some individuals may prefer to live alone and find that it has its advantages, improving one’s physical health would not be one of those advantages.

“[T]he field now has much stronger evidence that lacking social connections is detrimental to physical health,” the study authors concluded.


If you are looking to breakthrough loneliness and feelings of isolation, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a counselor or coach.

Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Early Mortality

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Loneliness and social isolation linked to early mortality

By James McIntosh (from Medical News Today)

There are a number of health and lifestyle factors – obesity, smoking, air pollution – that are known to be risk factors for early mortality and receive considerable attention. New research has suggested that social connections should be added to this list, with a study finding loneliness and social isolation to be risk factors for all ages.

Psychologists from Brigham Young University in Provo, UT, discovered in a meta-analysis that loneliness and social isolation better predicted premature death among populations aged less than 65 years, despite older people being more likely to be lonely and having a higher mortality risk overall.

“The effect of this is comparable to obesity, something that public health takes very seriously,” says lead author Julianne Holt-Lunstad. “We need to start taking our social relationships more seriously.”

Previous research has demonstrated that social connections can have a positive influence on physical well-being as well as psychological and emotional well-being. Until now, no meta-analysis had been conducted where the effect of social isolation and loneliness on mortality has been the focus.

Although the two terms sound similar, loneliness and social isolation can be very different in appearance. An individual who is surrounded by lots of other people can still feel lonely while some people prefer to be alone and foster isolation from others.

Despite these differences, however, the study found that the effects on premature mortality were the same for both loneliness and social isolation.

Researchers predict a ‘loneliness epidemic’ in the future

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from 70 studies conducted between 1980 and 2014, featuring a total of over 3 million participants. The data included information regarding loneliness, social isolation and living alone.

After controlling for variables such as age, gender, socioeconomic status and pre-existing health conditions, the researchers found that social isolation was linked to an increased risk of premature mortality. Conversely, the presence of social relationships was found to have a positive influence on health.

The study did, however, utilize data from a narrow range of ages, with the majority of the data coming from older adults. The authors acknowledge that less than a quarter of the studies analyzed involved people with an average age of 59 or younger, and only 9% of studies involved participants younger than 50 at intake.

The researchers state that the effects on physical health caused by loneliness and social isolation are comparable to those caused by obesity, with current evidence indicating “that heightened risk for mortality from a lack of social relationships is greater than that from obesity.” They write:

“The current status of research on the risks of loneliness and social isolation is similar to that of research on obesity 3 decades ago – although further research on causal pathways is needed, researchers now know both the level of risk and the social trends suggestive of even greater risk in the future.”

Due to advances in technology and the evolution of the Internet, it may seem as though people are closer together than ever before. However, the number of people feeling lonely appears to be on the rise.

“Not only are we at the highest recorded rate of living alone across the entire century, but we’re at the highest recorded rates ever on the planet,” says co-author Tim Smith. “With loneliness on the rise, we are predicting a possible loneliness epidemic in the future.”

Despite the limitations of the study, the authors believe that their findings justify raising a warning about increasing rates of social isolation.

Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study that found extreme loneliness can increase an older person’s risk of premature death by 14%.