Loneliness rivals smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity in negative health impact

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An increasing number of studies indicate that loneliness is a significant risk factor for mortality, one which is comparable to smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.

Specifically, via higher risks of heart disease, stroke, dementia, depression, anxiety, suicide, poorer sleep quality, and reduced immune function.

Loneliness is also linked to a higher risk of inactivity, smoking, more healthcare appointments, and a greater need for institutional care.

Significance:

  • Reducing loneliness across the global population could be a significant factor in reducing the prevalence and impacts of chronic diseases associated with ageing.
  • COVID-19 prevention measures have undoubtedly increased the global population's risk factors for loneliness, perhaps with long-term directional consequences due to our increased reliance on virtual communication methods.
  • Virtual communication and work-from-home isn't going away, there are many benefits that come with it. A big challenge in the coming decade is likely how to keep our mental and emotional health in top shape and minimize loneliness, while keeping the benefits of the virtualization of life. Perhaps further developments in virtual meetups is how we can reduce loneliness.

For future self to investigate:

  • To what extent can reducing loneliness increase our health and life expectancy?
  • What can we do to decrease our risk of loneliness in the coming decades, with current trends in technological adoption, and our ageing self? (Ageing is a risk factor for loneliness.)
  • We have chosen to spread ourselves across the planet, across vast distances. We use automobiles to move across said distances and virtual communication to keep connected. We might remain attached to each other on a practical level, but we remain physically far apart. How does this affect loneliness across the population?

(Social isolation is distinct from 'loneliness'. We can feel lonely regardless of how much social contact we have. As such, “increasing the number of people we keep socially connected with” is not a universal solution.)


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