Loneliness is deadlier than obesity and should be considered a public health risk, experts warned in a recent study.
When researchers in the US looked into the health effects of loneliness and social isolation, they reportedly found that those with bad social connections have a 50 per cent increased risk of early death, compared to those with good social connections.
Looking at 218 studies, they allegedly discovered that social isolation raised a person's risk of death more than obesity, which raised the risk of death by 30 per cent.
Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, lead author and professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, 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. Yet an increasing portion of the US population now experiences isolation regularly."
Suggesting that greater priority should be placed on research and resources to tackle loneliness, such as social skills for children in schools, she added: "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. 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."
Another study released in 2018 claimed that nearly half of all Americans felt lonely, with young people, in particular, bearing the brunt of this pain.
When health insurer Cigna took a nationwide survey of 20,000 adults, they apparently found the generation born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s —'Z'— feels lonely the most, having an average loneliness score of 48.3, compared to 44, the average score for all Americans.
Millennials, meanwhile, scored 45.3 and Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation scored just below the American average at 42.4 and 38.6.
In the study, 54 per cent of respondents said they feel like no one actually knows them well.
In addition, 56 per cent of people stated the people they surround themselves around "are not necessarily with them," while approximately 40 per cent said they "lack companionship," their "relationships aren’t meaningful," and that they feel "isolated from others."
The research used the UCLA Loneliness Scale, pioneered by the University of California, Los Angeles. Using measurements calculated by a mix of statements and a formula, anyone with a score between 20 and 80 was deemed as lonely. The higher the score, the more likely it was that the person felt significant social isolation.
Commenting on the correlation between social isolation and health, David Cordani, chief executive of Cigna said that there was a "blurred line".
“There’s a blurred line between mental and physical health," he stated. "Oftentimes, medical symptoms present themselves and they’re correlated with mental, lifestyle, behavioral issues like loneliness."