Loneliness can shorten life span, global study shows

2023-06-20 19:27:17
Loneliness can shorten life span, global study shows

There is an epidemic of loneliness and isolation today in the West, and the consequences can be deadly, researchers say.

Folks who reported that they were socially isolated or felt lonely were more likely to die early from all causes including cancer, according to a sweeping review of 90 studies that included more than 2.2 million people from around the globe.

Exactly how loneliness or social isolation affects a person’s health and well-being is not fully understood, but many theories exist, the researchers reported.

People who are socially isolated or lonely may be less likely to eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise and more likely to smoke and consume alcohol. In addition, social isolation is linked to inflammation and weakened immune systems. People who are socially isolated may be less likely to receive medical care due to their smaller social networks.

Social isolation and loneliness are not one and the same, the researchers pointed out. Social isolation refers to a lack of contact with other people. By contrast, loneliness is the feeling of being alone, regardless of social contact.

For the study, researchers led by Maoqing Wang and Yashuang Zhao from Harbin Medical University in China reviewed 90 studies. Folks who reported being socially isolated and feeling lonely were more likely to die early from all causes including cancer. What’s more, social isolation was linked to an increased risk of dying from heart disease.

The research did have its share of limitations, including differing measures of social isolation and loneliness in the studies. Most of the studies took place in high-income countries, so the findings may not be generalizable for less affluent nations.

The findings are published online June 19 in the Nature science journal.

Julianne Holt-Lunstad is director of the Social Connection and Health Lab at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. She was not involved with the new review, but much of her research is devoted to the health effects of loneliness.

“[This study] is consistent with my [2015] meta-analysis that found that both isolation and loneliness are significant predictors of [dying],” she said. “This is also consistent with the U.S. Surgeon General Advisory on isolation and loneliness.” Holt-Lunstad was one of the main authors of the advisory.

While isolation and loneliness can overlap, they don’t always travel together, she said.

“An individual can be lonely and not isolated, and isolated and not lonely,” Holt-Lunstad said. “This data suggests that isolation is the stronger [risk] of the two.”

Public health awareness efforts should focus on loneliness and social isolation, she said.

Source: HealthDay News)


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