Loneliness may have surpassed obesity as the primary health risk across the globe. According to a recently published study, people who are chronically lonely have a 50% higher death rate. Obesity, the world’s former top killer, increases the risk of death by only 30%.

One Of The Most Comprehensive Studies On Loneliness

The U.S.-based researchers compiled evidence from 218 studies that looked into the health effects of social isolation and loneliness. When they finished crunching the numbers, they found that loneliness doubles the risk of death compared to healthy individuals.

Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, the lead author of the study, says that “being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need, crucial to both well-being and survival.” Dr. Holt-Lunstad is a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University.

Loneliness Is A Silent Killer

Loneliness magnifies the severity of other illnesses. According to Dr. Holt-Lunstad “there is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase the risk for premature mortality.” The most obvious example of this is the high infant mortality rates that doctors find when infants lack sufficient human contact.

Social isolation is thought to make people feel worse mentally and physically. Researchers believed that the chemical and hormonal response to loneliness may weaken the immune system. When the immune system is compromised, individuals are more susceptible to disease.

How Loneliness Strains The Economy

The more susceptible people are to illness, the more they end up costing public healthcare. The UK is the loneliness capital of Europe. Their government estimates that the loneliness epidemic costs them approximately $20 million per year. This statistic includes the cost of lost revenue due to the extra sick days that people take when they’re socially isolated.

When researchers consolidate statistics from a wide range of studies, confirming exact numbers can be difficult. Even if the 50% increased mortality rate is inflated, it’s undeniable that chronic loneliness poses a serious health risk.

Humans intuitively yearn for a stable social structure. If you suffer from loneliness, you’re not alone. Seeking help can be a necessary first step towards a longer life.