Researchers at Brigham Young University in Utah have conducted a meta-study to observe the effects of long-term loneliness upon people’s health. They analyzed the results of 35 years of research in the field and came to the conclusion that isolation is at least as harmful to one’s physical condition as obesity, inactivity or smoking are. The studies centralized in this new analysis gathered information from over 3 million people. The data indicated that loneliness can boost premature-death-rates by 32%.
The indicator used in this research was the UCLA loneliness scale, including 20 different measurements for social contact deprivation. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, the study’s lead author, warned about the risks of isolation, which should be treated as seriously by public campaigners as obesity and other similar health-threatening issues are. She advised everyone to take their social relationships more seriously.
Of course, this is not the first time isolation is linked to health risks like strokes and heart attacks. A previous study performed by the University of Chicago proved that loneliness causes cortisol levels to rise, which is frequently linked to heart attacks.
Researchers at Brigham Young University were motivated to conduct this study by the rising number of single person households in the US. From 17% in 1970, the number of people living alone has increased to 27%. Specialists attribute this to the rising number of home-employed persons, as well as to social media addiction and binge watching movie series.
Vulnerability to the dire effects of isolation has not been linked to a particular geographic area or to one of the sexes. Apparently, people under the age of 65 were more prone to be negatively affected. Researchers tried to compare the risks of loneliness with the ones of smoking and being an alcoholic, but it is hard to draw a conclusion because the two are seldom mutually exclusive.
The team of scholars studying this phenomenon warned about a possible “loneliness epidemic” in the future, which the data seems to support. Although it seems paradoxical in the context of an increasing population and limited space, the imminent loneliness crisis is not without explanations, given the time people dedicate to virtual interaction instead of real-life contacts.
image source: Caspar David Friedrich