Loneliness as well as social isolation could already be a more serious public health threat than obesity, two new meta-analyses have revealed.

The effects could keep growing, the research from Brigham Young University presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association warned.

Study Findings

The researchers conducted two meta-analyses of studies delving on the link among loneliness, social isolation, and mortality. It should be noted, however, that loneliness and social isolation are notably different: the former is the feeling of being emotionally disconnected from others, while the latter is the outright lack of contact.

The first analysis, covering more than 300,000 adults in 148 studies, revealed that premature death risk was 50 percent lower for adults with a better connection with others versus those who were socially isolated.

The second analysis, comprising 70 studies and more than 3.4 million adult subjects, showed that loneliness, social isolation, as well as solitary living were all tied to a greater risk of early death.

“Indeed, many nations around the world now suggest we are facing a ‘loneliness epidemic,’” said study author and psychology professor Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad.

She highlighted social connection as a “fundamental human need,” and mourned the fact that an increasing part of U.S. population now experiences isolation on the regular.

Growing Loneliness, Isolation In The US

About 42.6 million adults over age 45 in the United States are estimated to suffer from chronic loneliness, a loneliness study from the AARP found.

Loneliness emerged as a significant predictor of poor health. Those rating their health as “poor” were more than half as likely to be lonely than those who rated it as “excellent,” or 55 percent versus 25 percent.

Recent census data, too, disclosed that over a quarter of the population is living alone, while more than half is unmarried. Since the previous census, rates of marriage and number of kids for every household have dropped.

The aging population is also increasing, meaning the public health effect of loneliness and social isolation are only expected to rise.

Holt-Lunstad, for instance, recommended prioritizing research toward this matter, moving from societal to individual level. This means that medical testing could also include social connectedness, and training around social skills could be given to school children.

A separate study back in April cited a connection between loneliness and the severity of the flu. The team found that the lonelier someone felt, the worse the self-reported flu symptoms became.

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