Loneliness is increasingly becoming a bigger public health concern, and might even surpass obesity, according to a study presented at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention.
Researchers at Brigham Young University have found that the negative impact of social isolation continues to grow, Psych Central reports. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology, said, “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.” Despite this,
An increasing portion of the U.S. population now experiences isolation regularly.
A Loneliness Study conducted by the AARP estimates that 42.6 million Americans over the age of 45 suffer from chronic loneliness. Further, the latest census data shows that over 25% of the country’s population lives alone, that more than half of the total population is unmarried, and that marriage rates and the number of kids per household have dropped.
Holt-Lunstad said, “These trends suggest that Americans are becoming less socially connected and experiencing more loneliness.”
The study examined data from two meta-analyses. The first used 148 studies that involved over 300,000 participants. It found that more social connections were linked to a 50% reduction in early mortality.
The second study compiled 70 works covering 3.4 million respondents from North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. The researchers found that social isolation, loneliness or living alone had a significant effect on the risks of premature death.
“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,” Holt-Lunstad said. “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.”
She recommends that there should be more importance placed on research tackling this specific health threat, such as social skills training for kids, or encouraging doctors to look at social connections in medical screenings.