Just how taxing is loneliness? A new study explores that question and finds it can be just as dangerous as obesity.
The study, which was carried out by a research team under Brigham Young University professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad, found that consistently feeling lonely can have a negative impact on health. Overall, researchers found that chronic loneliness shortens our lifespans just as much as being obese.
“The effect is comparable to obesity, something that public health takes very seriously,” Holt-Lunstad said. “We need to start taking our social relationships more seriously.”
Tim Smith, who co-authored the study, says the findings are concerning because so many people, and especially young people, are now choosing to live alone. “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,” Smith said. “With loneliness on the rise, we are predicting a possible epidemic in the future.”
This is not the first study to examine the health effects of feeling lonely. In a previous study, researchers found that feeling lonely raises the risk of death to the same level as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic.
The answer to the problem may not be seeking out new friends, however. Research has also shown that people can feel lonely even when they’re surrounded by people. Others may find it difficult to avoid isolating themselves from friends and family.
The study can now be read in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.