It’s Official: Social Isolation Is Killing Us

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New research shows that social isolation can be as bad for your health as obesity and drug abuse.

The science of loneliness has grown alongside the digital age.

The latest issue of the journal “Perspectives in Psychological Science” has a special section devoted to a series of articles on the topic of loneliness. A lot of research has been done on the subject in a short period of time, says special issue editor David Sbarra, a psychological scientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

He writes that “as the world’s population ages, there is an increased and understandable focus on (objective and perceived) social isolation.”

Perhaps the most unnerving article in the bunch, out of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, is titled “Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review.”

The authors reviewed 24 years worth of studies about how loneliness, social isolation or living alone affect mortality. They concluded that both actual and perceived social isolation are associated with an increased risk of early death.

Lifestyle habits like smoking and inactivity are known risk factors for poor health and early death, but social habits are as big — if not bigger — as risk factors, according to their findings.

“The risk associated with social isolation and loneliness is comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality, including those identified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (physical activity, obesity, substance abuse, responsible sexual behavior, mental health, injury and violence, environmental quality, immunization, and access to health care),” the article concluded.

Stacy Johnson

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