Studies have shown that isolation and lack of human contact can negatively affect everyone from infants not given affection to hardened criminals in solitary confinement. And a recent AARP survey on loneliness found that more than 43 million Americans over the age of 45 are estimated to be chronically lonely, and, according to the latest census data, trends in the population are skewing toward less marriage and kids, and more living alone.
And while we can all appreciate the joy of not coming home to someone else's dirty dishes, the burgeoning loneliness wave may be more than just a matter of living a life unfulfilled—and it might become a bigger health problem than obesity, according to new research presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.
The new research consisted of two meta-reviews: Researchers looked at 148 studies on more than 300,000 people, and then looked at another 70 studies focusing on more than 3.4 million people—all tracking the link between loneliness and mortality.
"There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase the risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators," said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Brigham Young University. "With an increasing aging population, the effect on public health is only anticipated to increase. 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."