In PHOTO:A man looks at the Pudong financial district of Shanghai November 20, 2013. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

A new research by the Brigham Young University found that loneliness and social isolation pose the same threat to longevity compared with obesity. In the press release, the researchers describe the two terms: they state that loneliness can be felt even when a person is surrounded by many people, while social isolation happens when someone stays away from people, isolating themselves from everybody. Though these are different, the study found that the impact they have on a person’s life span is similar in both cases.

Julianne Holt-Lunstad, the lead study author, remarks that obesity is taken very seriously as it poses a risk to public health. Considering loneliness and social isolation as factors that are just as harmful, it is important to take these into account while analysing public health. Holt-Lunstad states that it is important for people to take their personal and social relationships more seriously.

Tim Smith, co-author of the study further states, “Not only are we at the highest recorded rate of living alone across the entire century, but we're at the highest recorded rates ever on the planet. With loneliness on the rise, we are predicting a possible loneliness epidemic in the future."

For the study, data regarding loneliness, social isolation, and 'living alone' were collected and analysed from various health studies. They evaluated data from three million participants. They observed that while keeping factors such as socioeconomic status, age, gender, and pre-existing health conditions as constant, existence of social relationships had a positive impact on health and longevity. Meanwhile, the opposite was true with those recorded to have less or no social connections. The study also found that there was greater association between loneliness and risk for mortality among young populations compared with the older populations.

Holt-Lunstad and Smith conducted studies regarding the same topic in the past. In their previous studies, they concluded that loneliness and social isolation increased the risk of mortality. They found that it poses a similar threat as 15 cigarettes a day and alcohol do to a person’s longevity. The new research, however, states that it does more than just that and can be as dangerous as obesity.

Researchers state in the press release that there are several ways to diminish the effects loneliness and social isolation on longevity. They suggest the use of the Internet for long distance relationships.

The new study appears in Perspectives on Psychological Science.

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