As more and more Americans prefer a virtual life over a real one and delay marriage, the rates of loneliness have jumped to such levels that the issue can be called a public health matter.
Prof. Julianne Holt-Lunstad presented her findings this week at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association. In her research, she cross-checked the findings of two massive meta-analyses.
The new research revealed that loneliness is even harder to tackle and more rampant as a public health threat than obesity in the U.S. The professor noted that the real challenge the country now faces is to find a solution to the epidemic.
The first meta-analysis involved 148 studies and research data on about 300,000 people. Holt-Lunstand’s work showed that people with greater social interaction had the risk of early death reduced by half when compared to their lonely peers.
The second meta-analysis involved 70 separate studies and data on more than 3 million people. This study was more focused on the consequences of social isolation, living alone, and loneliness. The research revealed an association between these three factors and a higher risk of mortality higher than obesity.
Loneliness Can Be Deadly
Study authors think that loneliness can be fatal because it disrupts the levels of stress hormone and healthy sleep patterns, boosts inflammation, and weaken the immune system. As a result, lonely people are more prone to developing diseases and having life-threatening injuries.
The lead author of the study doesn’t think loneliness can just vanish by itself. According to the most recent AARP Loneliness Study, more than 42 million adults aged 45 or older are affected by chronic loneliness. Plus, as the baby boomer generation is getting older, numbers are expected to increase exponentially in the next decades.
Some solutions to the problem include joining social clubs, socializing with neighbors and increased awareness. In England, a hotline for lonely people where they can talk to an operator as long as they want receives 10,000 calls per week.
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