Studies reveal that loneliness kills more people than obesity

Loneliness: a bigger killer than obesity and a major public health hazard.

Studies reveal that loneliness kills more people than obesity

Loneliness is a bigger killer than obesity and should be considered a major public health hazard, says the biggest ever study of this social condition.

Researchers examined nearly 4 million people and 218 studies into the health effects of social isolation and loneliness. They found that lonely people have a 50 per cent higher chance of premature death, compared with obesity, which increases the chance of early death by 30 per cent.

Lead author of the study, Dr Julianne Holt-Lunstad says that people preparing for retirement need to place as much importance on maintaining social connections as they do on their finances. This is because the workplace is often the biggest source of companionship.

“Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need – crucial to both well-being and survival,” she said.

“Yet an increasing portion of the population now experiences isolation regularly.”

According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, 17 per cent of older people see friends, family and neighbours less than once a week. One in 10 can go for a month at a time without seeing anyone they know.

It is estimated that around 245,000 Australians aged 70 years or older experience social isolation and that, within 20 years, around 3.1 million Australians will live alone.

A University of York study revealed that lonely people are 30 per cent more likely to have a stroke or heart disease, two of the leading causes of death in Australia.

Harvard University found that social isolation activates the ‘fight or flight’ stress signal which, in turn, increases a blood-clotting protein which can cause heart attacks and strokes.

All told, loneliness should be as concerning to people as giving up smoking or watching their waistline.

“Loneliness can no longer be ignored,” said Dr Michelle Lim from the Swinburne University of Technology. “We know from research that loneliness is as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”

Dr Lim believes that technology is increasingly to blame for our lack of true social interaction, adding that increased use of social media means that “emotion is often muted”.

“Another promising way to tackle loneliness is to improve the quality of our relationships, specifically by building intimacy with those around us,” says Dr Lim.

Dr Holt-Lunstad says that we need to consider loneliness as a public health threat, and suggests adding social connectedness as a health factor on a doctor's medical checklist.

"With an increasing aging population, the effect on public health is only anticipated to increase," she says.

"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."

Do you feel alone? If not, how do you ensure that you are not lonely?



    To make a comment, please register or login
    10th Aug 2017
    At the moment I´m alone but not lonely but as time goes by I believe I would be lonely. People about my age, 79, are not interested to befriend with me. On the other hand, people younger that me...those young, healthy, beautiful and wealthy are too busy getting and spending money; they are, actually, spiritually lonely...I´m not.
    Not Senile Yet!
    10th Aug 2017
    Lonelyness is a state of mind triggered by avoiding making the effort to become involved with a hobby/passion or Social outlets available for fear of being judged.
    Most active retirees who cannot work still volunteer ...even if for 2hrs a days....for Social reasons alone!
    Govts need to look at Part time employment for retirees being encouraged and remove the Penalties currently applied restricting the amount earned and replace it with up to 10hrs a week tax free!
    Pensioners spend any extra on Family or outings and the Government reas the 10% extra in GSt and the economy money flow would get a boost!
    Sick of their Punish and No Reward for those who get off their arse and stay active.
    10th Aug 2017
    Why Not Senile Yet?
    If people want to work just to avoid being lonely, there is always volunteer work that would fit the bill.

    If they want to work because they need the money then they are just like any other worker and should be treated as such. If they are working they are NOT retirees.

    And what would be the hourly rate for those 10 hours? I can hear the outraged now if one of these pensioner workers is earning say $15 and another earning $30 an hour both tax free and in addition to their pension. Shrieks about unfairness would abound!
    11th Aug 2017
    One activity I recommend is going to your local school and volunteering. I spend a few hours each week just listening to children read or testing them on their times tables and/or spelling. I find it wonderful and all you need is a little patience and a Working with Children police check.
    10th Aug 2017
    You cant beat going to MacDonalds, having a senior coffee, read the paper, walk around a bit, then go ome
    10th Aug 2017
    Trouble is mike you can do all that without actually talking to anyone. And that's the point isn't it?
    10th Aug 2017
    Why do so many Australians live alone? Many are very independent and live alone so not to lose their single pension. Here's a thought. Pay all aged pensioners the single pension regardless of their situation. It would encourage house sharing and possibly free up housing for the younger generation. And it might just help with the loniness issue?
    10th Aug 2017
    Living alone is not loneliness - its freedom! There is a difference. :)
    10th Aug 2017
    Many live alone because there is no other family/partner to live with. And frankly there is no way on earth I would agree to returning to sharing accommodation with a stranger. I'm afraid my flat-sharing days ended when I left college in my 20s.
    10th Aug 2017
    Interesting topic.
    We are in our 70s and it is always us that does the entertaining or phoning up to suggest meeting for lunch. It would be nice if we got invited over for a cup cake and a cuppa! But now. I started a friends lunch at our place once a month, but nobody wanted to take it up on a roster basis. I can understand why people are lonely they cannot be bothered going that extra mile to invite friends over for a cup of tea even, I think a lot of people are just bone idle. Even walking in the park one meets people to chat to. There are heaps of clubs out that to join like PROBUS.
    10th Aug 2017
    The people who can communicate on YLC are not the demographic this article is referring to. Living alone is not loneliness - its the inability to no longer be able to communicate with others that causes loneliness and you can be married or even be cared for by family or in a nursing home.
    When your health fails and/or your mobility it brings a whole new limitation to our world. You may even be a carer trapped by a loved one with dementia or ill health and in turn it means you can't get out and socialise.
    Thank heaven for technology. It really is the biggest saviour for those who are house bound.
    10th Aug 2017
    "Dr Holt-Lunstad says that we need to consider loneliness as a public health threat, and suggests adding social connectedness as a health factor on a doctor's medical checklist."

    OK so in the next annual check-up the GP asks when was the last time you saw/spoke to/interacted with friends or family and the answer comes back "I have no friends or family". What then? Is the GP going to write a prescription for three new friends that the 'patient' can get filled on medicare at the nearest chemist? Or is the assumption going to be that the person must be lonely and depressed so are given a script for antidepressant medication?

    As others have said, living alone does not always mean lonely. Nor does the lack of close family/friends. Some people are perfectly happy with their own company. For those that aren't, there is a plethora of activities/clubs/associations/voluntary work people can access if they choose.

    You cannot force socialising on anyone and the absolute last thing I would want is some do-gooder trying to jolly me along when I neither want nor need it just because I live alone.
    10th Aug 2017
    Everyone feels lonely at some stage of their life. We moved from the city to live in a regional town - various reasons for the move. Older home situated on quite a steep hill, lots of garden, pool etc. It also seemed the obvious time to get out with prices climbing so high.
    We moved back to a regional town not far from where my husband was born and he had some cousins etc.
    Well luckily we didn't depend on getting many visits from any of them & yes our children were not really happy that we moved away but more because of the convenience we were for them for babysitting etc. It was time we both had a life after working all our married life up till retirement.
    We moved and did find it quite lonely even if we had each other - long term friends etc still live in the capital city but at least they have come for a visit quite a few times.
    I threw myself into volunteering as I always said I would like to give back to the community after working for so long - well that lasted about twelve months & the cracks appeared by way of cliques, not a church goer etc and of course politics in the office. Sorry but had enough of that when I worked.
    So I thought what can I do to get us both involved in the community seeing as my husband has a debilitating disease and social isolation was definitely going to come if I didn't do anything about it.
    After meeting a few people, I took the plunge I started a social group. We now meet once or twice a week, different community venues and activities (all pretty cost effective as most of us are on pensions) and yes the group is growing.
    This is all about being socially connected - if we don't get out whilst we can it certainly wont happen later. I know that it will take some time to establish "new friends" but I also know that I have some rather large hurdles to jump in the not too distant future, so I am trying to ready us both for the coming years.
    Sometimes it is "us" that have to go out & try, not blame others for our loneliness!
    10th Aug 2017
    Good on you Xmascrazy. And good luck with the group.
    10th Aug 2017
    Yes voluntary work is excellent I used to be one of the many ladies that wheeled a trolley around Fremantle hospital in my 40s and also visited elderly lonely ladies back in those days.
    I think the lonely if abled should get out and be a volunteer. One of my late mothers friends did it at Royal Perth Hospital well into her 90s. She used to catch a bus into the city of Perth and back home to her house.
    10th Aug 2017
    Some great comments here on this increasingly important topic. As a 71 yo who volunteers (working/talking) with seniors in Brisbane and who also has part-time paid employment (a few hours per week), I come across many seniors who are just wanting to have a on one or part of a group.
    I don't have any silver bullet to fix this situation but I do know it is the responsibility of ALL OF US and the benefits of taking an hour of two for a visit to a fellow senior Australian will be two sided.....the visitor and the person in need of communication.
    I'm not smart enough to come up with a plan to suit all but I am sure that Centrelink or some other Government Agency should be involved.
    Here is a "crazy idea" .....why not have our local Council or State Gvernment representatives run this pro bono out of their taxpayer/ratepayer funded offices. My local Greens councillor...for his approx. $150,000 salary ....has more interest in Nauru and Manus Island refugees than his constituents thus it would be a good learning curve for him.
    10th Aug 2017
    HI Nena you sound like a nice person and I would just like to wish you a great day.
    10th Aug 2017
    Hi floss,
    Thank you for the´ve made my day!!! However, I don't think I´m a "nice" person...a good person? Oh...YES
    Ted Wards
    10th Aug 2017
    The trouble with these studies is that they ignore the services that have been around since 1985 in Australia for social support. Every week literally 1000's of elderly people are picked up and taken out by aged care organisations. Every time I get contacted by these researchers who claim they are going to do something about isolation, I point out to the that tax payers have been funding social support programs for over 30 years they always say, yes but it doesn't help many to which I say the government might disagree with you. The fact is there is more money that goes into social support to overcome isolation than there is for other areas of aged care. People also have the choice to be alone and not partake of these programs and that is there choice. Loneliness has always been an issue. The only difference now is that the media has picked up on something the government realized over 30 years ago and universities dont actually require researchers to look at what is already available!
    Old Geezer
    10th Aug 2017
    I was left alone all morning on Tuesday and it was awesome. Doesn't happen very much but I do enjoy my time alone.
    11th Aug 2017
    Tuesday was wonderful, not having Old Geezer annoying us. If you think it was amazing, why don't you try it for 7 days a week, please!
    9th Oct 2017
    P$cript, tut, tut and be more lonely?
    9th Oct 2017
    P$cript, tut, tut and be more lonely?
    10th Aug 2017
    A suggestion. If you are reasonably computer literate ( Skype etc ) then get involved in teaching English via the Internet. There are numerous young people overseas who would be extremely grateful to have the opportunity to learn from a native speaker. I am 72 years old and have been involved in this for over a decade and it gives me great enjoyment and satisfaction. ESL Certification ( which I have ) would be a plus but I consider that our Generation were taught the "basics" of English very well at school thus can handle this situation with confidence.
    I have a couple of friends (of a similar age to myself ) involved in this and they couldn't be happier. Worth consideration and believe me, you will never be lonely!!
    10th Aug 2017
    My 80 year old mum loves living alone, won't even have a pet, she worries that if she gets to a point she can't drive she won't be able to get out and see her friends. So maybe the loneliness can set in once you can't get out much and no one visits anymore. There are many options though, I know my over 80 year old neighbour gets picked up by local community bus to take him to various things as he can't drive anymore.

    11th Aug 2017
    Get a pet that will do it.
    Barbara Mathieson
    29th Aug 2017
    Alone , but not lonely that's me! However I have a friend who is lonely she says and now seems to be getting quite anxious and depressed.

    She tells me that I'm the only friend she's got. I've suggested all the usual activities that one can do to alleviate this problem, plus I take her out as much as I can to a group I belong to. She does not drive.
    She has two elderly dogs which are constantly draining her meagre finanances, but wants to keep them alive!
    Her house conditions are not really conducive to healthy living but she won't , can't shift because of her dogs .

    Depression/ worrying, not eating/ cooking ( complaining!) seems to rule her days.
    She now says she would like another lady to live in with her for company and perhaps do some cooking and wants my ' opinion ' on this idea!

    I feel if I don't/can't get her involved / make more of an effort to help herself , she might lose the only friend she's got !!
    I feel aged care might be calling her, but I know she won't take kindly to this suggestion! Then there's still the dogs!
    Help! ????
    29th Aug 2017
    Sometimes all the suggestions, assistance in the world will not change/educate another person, as unfortunately they have blinkers on in regard to what is out there or how their life maybe change for the better especially if they are frightened of "Nursing Homes" - there are so many other options & possibly your friend would not be assessed as Level 2 Care but sometimes they are "happy" with the status quo but like to tell their story anyway, which is another way of having a friend drop round or take them out.
    As you have not mentioned your friends age or whether she has any family supports, I can only imagine she may be say in her 80's and really not ready to face any changes, the dogs being another barricade to changes.
    Suggest that she joins a group that has a bus service, there are quite a few aged programs that offer this service, and then this will free you up to "just be her friend", and visit her socially.
    I am afraid it is a problem that many of us have faced either with friends or even ageing parents, in the end you also have to look after yourself and cannot be solely responsible for a friend that won't look at other avenues herself.

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