New research finds that eating alone places people, especially men, at risk of metabolic syndrome. Does this add to literature showing loneliness as a serious public health issue?

Smaller Households, Bigger Problems?

According to a new research published in Obesity Research & Clinical Practice, eating alone has become a norm in modern life. In recent years, families from various regions of the world have become smaller, and there are more one-person households than before. These changes lead to irregular, informal, and more individualized forms of eating.

Because of these societal circumstances, researchers opted to assess the relationship between eating alone and metabolic syndrome. By definition, metabolic syndrome is the clustering of at least three of five cardiovascular risk factors such as obesity and high blood pressure.

Men More At Risk

Researchers conducted the study with the help of 7,725 participants of the Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (KNHANES) in 2013 and 2014. Each participant was also asked whether they ate alone twice a day, once a day, or not at all. Among the participants, those who ate alone twice a day showed higher frequencies of living alone, being unmarried, and skipping meals.

Results of the data gathering showed that eating alone has potential risk factors for metabolic syndrome for both sexes, but even more so for men. Taking into account factors such as lifestyle choices, educational levels, and job status, women who frequently ate alone were 29 percent likely to develop metabolic syndrome, while men who frequently ate alone were 45 percent more likely to be obese and 64 percent more likely to develop metabolic syndrome compared to those who often dined with companions.

'Loneliness Epidemic'

One possible reason for the risk increase especially among men is that eating alone may lead to more unhealthy meal choices but previous research have also focused on the mental, physiological, and physical effects of loneliness. In fact, two recent meta-analyses have revealed social isolation and loneliness as serious public health threats.

Just last August, researchers found loneliness and social isolation as a significant factor that affects poor health. In the first analysis, researchers found that premature death risk was slashed in half for adults with healthy social connections, while the second analysis found social isolation, loneliness, and solitary living as factors that increase the risk for premature death.

Researchers then highlighted the "loneliness epidemic" as an issue that many nations are facing, and social connection as a fundamental human need. In fact, research has shown that sharing good news can promote good health and happiness.

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