Loneliness Could Be a Bigger Public Health Threat Than Obesity

Loneliness and social isolation seem to be a much more impending health problem than obesity. According to research presented by the American Psychological Association, approximately 42.6 million adults over age 45 in the United States are suffering from chronic loneliness, in addition to more than one quarter of the population living alone. More than half of the population are also unmarried, and marriage rates and the number of children per household have declined. “These trends suggest that Americans are becoming less socially connected and experiencing more loneliness,” said Holt-Lunstad.

“Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need – crucial to both well-being and survival. An extreme example to indicate this are 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,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, professor of psychology at Brigham Young University.

Holt-Lunstad conducted two studies, with the first finding that greater social connection is associated with a 50 percent reduced risk of early death. The second study examined the role that social isolation, loneliness or living alone might have on mortality. It was found that all three had a significant and equal effect on the risk of premature death, one that was equal to or exceeded the effect of other well-accepted risk factors such as obesity.

“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,” said Holt-Lunstad. “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.”

5 Ways To Fight Loneliness

  1. Get out and about
    Even if you aren’t directly engaging with someone, make the effort to be surrounded by people – whether it’s walking around the grocery store or working out at the gym.

  2. Meet with people in person
    Whether it’s being in contact with someone via email, phone calls or social media, that’s not enough. Social networks can offer real connections, there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction. Have confidence in yourself and reach out to people.
  3. Walk interactively
    Don’t just walk to your next destination. Travel with purpose and notice what is around you. Say hi and good morning to those that pass by you. You will be surprise at how much position connection you will receive in return.
  4. Sign up for a class
    Pursue a hobby that brings joy and adds value to your life. Participate in organized activities that provide creative outlets for social experience in which you and others can share common ground.
  5. Seek professional help if deemed necessary
    Utilize the tools and resources available to you in order to process your feelings and receive constructive feedback. For some this may be a therapist, and for others this may be seminars or events at local health/medical clinics. 

Become involved with SDPA and visit our website for helpful resources related to this topic.

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