LIVING

Loneliness Could Be Deadlier Than Obesity, New Study Says

More Canadians than ever are living alone.

08/15/2017 10:09 EDT | Updated 08/15/2017 10:09 EDT
martin-dm via Getty Images

When Britney Spears sang, "My loneliness is killing me," she was on to something.

Although many of us feel more connected than ever thanks to social media and video chats, a new study says that loneliness and social isolation should be considered a major public health hazard, and could even be deadlier than obesity.

"Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need — crucial to both well-being and survival. 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," Julianne Holt-Lunstad, the professor of psychology at Brigham Young University who carried out the research, said in a statement.

"Yet an increasing portion of the U.S. population now experiences isolation regularly."

Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need.

For the meta-analysis, researchers in the U.S. looked at 218 studies involving the health effects of social isolation and loneliness on nearly four million people.

They found that lonely people had a 50 per cent increased risk of early death, compared to those who had a more active social life. In comparison, those who are obese have a 30 per cent chance of dying before the age of 70.

fstop123 via Getty Images

The Telegraph reports that Britain is the "loneliness capital" of Europe, "with its inhabitants less likely overall to know their neighbours or have strong friendships than people anywhere else in the EU," according to a study.

Last year, the U.K.'s Local Government Association said loneliness should be treated as a "major health issue," and charity Age UK said the issue "blights the lives" of more than one million older people.

It's a well-known fact among scientists that loneliness is bad for one's health.

Previous research has found that feeling lonely can harm your immune system, makes colds feel worse, and is linked to higher blood pressure in older people, poor sleep and even Alzheimer's.

Feeling lonely can harm your immune system, makes colds feel worse, and is linked to higher blood pressure in older people, poor sleep and even Alzheimer's.

This can be a major issue for Canadians, as, according to the 2017 Census, more people than ever are living alone.

If you are feeling lonely and/or socially isolated, psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson suggests trying to improve your social skills, asking for professional help or counselling, or looking for opportunities to meet new people.

"Persistent loneliness is not only emotionally painful but can be more damaging to our physical and mental health than many psychiatric illnesses," she writes, which is why it's important to seek out help and companionship.

Also on HuffPost: