Experts have cautioned that loneliness poses a greater harm to public health than obesity. A review of studies on loneliness reveals that those with poor social ties are 50 percent more likely to die young than people with strong social connections.
US researchers examined 218 papers about the negative impacts of social isolation and loneliness on one’s health.
They found that, in contrast to obesity, which increased a person’s risk of mortality by just 30%, social isolation increased a person’s chance of death by half.
The primary author, Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University, stated: “It is generally accepted that social connection is a basic human need that is essential to survival and well-being.
“Extreme examples show 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.
“Yet an increasing portion of the US population now experiences isolation regularly.”
Feeling lonely is thought to make people feel worse mentally and physically — and those who are lonely tend to suffer worse symptoms when they are unwell than those who aren’t.
A recent survey by Granset, the over-50s social networking site, found that almost three-quarters of older people in the UK are lonely and most have never spoken to someone about how they feel.
It also discovered that about 70 percent said their close friends and family would be surprised if they said they were lonely.
Recent Office of National Statistic stats show Britain is the loneliest country in Europe.
And, according to the Campaign to End Loneliness, the UK’s loneliness epidemic costs business $26 million per year for the costs associated with health outcomes and sick days.
Holt-Lunstad added: “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.
“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.”
She suggested greater priority be placed on research and resources to tackle loneliness such as social skills for children in schools.
Previous research has suggested that solitary adults reported much more severe symptoms when they were unwell.
A study by Rice University in Texas found that, while they were no more likely to catch a cold, lonely adults felt far worse when they did.
Experts said GPs should factor in a patient’s social circumstances when treating them.