Scientists at the University of California, San Diego also identified a lack of information on interventions that may boost the health of vulnerable individuals. The findings are based on data pooled from studies across the world over the past 40 years.
“Over four decades of research has clearly demonstrated social isolation and loneliness are both associated with adverse health outcomes,” says lead author Dr. Crystal Wiley Cené, a professor of clinical medicine and chief administrative officer for health equity, diversity and inclusion at the school, in a . “Given the prevalence of social disconnectedness across the U.S., the public health impact is quite significant.”
Risk increases with age due to life factors, such as widowhood and retirement. But the problem is increasingly affecting young people. The study finds social isolation and and loneliness increase the risk of death from heart disease or stroke by 29 and 32 percent, respectively.
“Social isolation and loneliness are also associated with worse prognosis in individuals who already have coronary heart disease or stroke,” says Cené.
People with heart disease who were socially isolated had a two to threefold increase in death during a six-year follow-up study. Socially isolated adults with three or fewer social contacts a month were up to 40 percent more likely to suffer recurrent strokes or heart attacks. In addition, five year heart failure survival rates were 60 and 62 percent lower for those who were socially isolated or both socially isolated and clinically depressed, respectively.
In the U.S., almost a quarter of over 65s are socially isolated, with prevalence of loneliness rising to nearly half. A Harvard University study describes 18 to 22 year olds, or “Gen Z,” as the “loneliest generation.” Increased isolation among younger adults has been blamed on higher social media use and less engagement in meaningful face to face activities.