Obesity and heart disease get most of the attention, but according to the American Psychological Association, loneliness may be the most dangerous non-opioid health hazard currently facing Americans. At the APA’s 125th Annual Convention, Brigham Young University Psychology Professor Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, presented disturbing findings based on two meta-analyses, of over 200 studies. Her conclusions adult loneliness is a widespread problem in America and its dangerous health effects are similar to 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,” explained Holt-Lunstad. She added that “greater social connection is associated with a 50 percent reduced risk of early death.”
Her first meta-analysis involved 148 studies that represented more than 300,000 participants. The second study involved 70 studies that represented approximately 3.4 million individuals primarily from North America but also from Europe, Asia, and Australia. Holt-Lunstad used the data to examine the role that social isolation, loneliness or living alone might have on mortality and found that all three have a significant effect on the risk of premature death. Perhaps most surprising, these studies showed that the effect of loneliness or social isolation is equal to or may even exceed the effect of physical factors such as obesity.
This is concerning, especially considering that in the most recent U.S. Census data, more a quarter of the population claimed to be living alone and more than half of the population was unmarried. In the AARP’s Loneliness Study, it was discovered that an estimated 42.6 million adults over age 45 in America are suffering from chronic loneliness. The concern is not just that loneliness has deleterious effects, but that loneliness is becoming core to the American experience.
In order to combat this “epidemic of loneliness”, Holt-Lunstad believes we need to prioritize research and resources, such as teaching kids social skills in school. It won’t be easy, but together, we may just be able to fight off loneliness and the severe damage it is beginning to cause our society.