Loneliness 'kills more people than obesity'

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Loneliness is a greater health threat than obesity, according to a major study.

Social connections are “crucial” to human well-being and survival, and isolation is a growing public health hazard, researchers in the US have found.

They surveyed more than 200 studies into loneliness affecting almost four million people in one of the largest reviews ever carried out.

Lead author Dr Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Professor of Psychology at Brigham Young University, Utah, 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.”

The findings of the investigation were presented at the 125th annual convention of the American Psychological Association.

One strand looked at 148 separate studies representing some 300,000 participants, and found that greater social connection meant a 50 per cent reduction in the risk of an early death.

Researchers concluded that loneliness and social isolation therefore pose a greater risk to public health than obesity.

Dr Holt-Lunstad said: “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’.”

She argues one course of action is to encourage people to prepare for retirement in a social as well as financial way, and boost spending locally on shared social spaces such as recreation centres and community gardens.

According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, around 10 per cent of people over 65 report feeling lonely “all or most of the time”.

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