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Loneliness: as dangerous for health as smoking, according to this study

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Long considered a simple social discomfort, loneliness is today a public health issue. An issue that has become so important on a global scale that the World Health Organization (WHO) even created a Commission on Social Connection in 2023. According to the agency: “ High rates of social isolation and loneliness around the world have serious consequences for health and well-being. People who do not have enough close social connections are at increased risk of stroke, anxiety, dementia, depression, suicide, and many other illnesses&amp ;nbsp;”.

An assertion confirmed by this study recently conducted by Harvard University and published on June 24 in the journal eClinicalMedicine. According to the latter's conclusions, chronic loneliness increases the risk of stroke significantly . A risk theoretically comparable to that of smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.

A worrying correlation

This pioneering research, which examined the correlation between the evolution of feelings of loneliness and the risk of stroke over time, highlights a staggering 56% increase in stroke risk among individuals aged 50 and over experiencing persistent loneliness, compared to those not experiencing this feeling of isolation.

Based on data from the Health and Retirement Study conducted by the University of Michigan, this large-scale survey has initially solicited more than 12,000 participants aged 50 and over, who had never suffered a stroke, between 2006 and 2008. Four years later, around 9,000 of them participated in follow-up, thus allowing an in-depth longitudinal analysis and basing their analysis on two measurement points< /strong>.

The researchers therefore categorized the participants into four distinct groups: “consistently low” (low loneliness score at both measurement points), “remitting” (those who had high scores at baseline, but low scores at follow-up), “recent onset” (the opposite) and “consistently high” (those who had high scores at both measurement points).

After studying various confounding factors such as social isolation and depressive symptoms, the The study found that individuals considered lonely at the start of the survey had a 25% increased risk of stroke compared to their non-lonely counterparts. Even more alarming, this risk climbed dizzyingly to 56% for members of the “consistently high” group.

The insidious impact of chronic loneliness

This work was carried out under the aegis of Dr Yenee Soh, research associate at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. For her, there is no doubt, they highlighted an unsuspected problem: “ Loneliness is more and more no longer recognized as a major public health problem. Our findings further underline its importance. Particularly when chronic, our study indicates that loneliness could play a crucial role in the incidence of stroke, already a leading cause of long-term disability and mortality. in the world “.

The in-depth analysis of the data collected reveals an essential distinction to be made between temporary solitude and that which settles in the long term. Thus, it is individuals faced with a persistent feeling of isolation who are most exposed to cardiovascular risks. This discovery is of capital importance in the development of effective preventive strategies, suggesting the need to prioritize targeting people suffering from chronic loneliness.

Towards concrete solutions

Early detection and treatment of individuals experiencing a persistent feeling of isolation prove to be one of the essential axes in the prevention of strokes. According to Soh: “ Regular assessments of loneliness would identify chronically isolated people, who are at increased risk of stroke “.

It is essential to distinguish the concept of solitude, which is based on a subjective perception of social disconnection, from that of social isolation, which is measured in a more tangible way by frequency of social interactions. This nuance is essential for developing adapted and effective intervention strategies.

To counter the deleterious effects of loneliness on health, a holistic approach is necessary, this is in any case what Soh defends. « If we do not take into account their feeling of loneliness, both on an individual and collective scale, the consequences on health could be serious “.

The results of this study are quite alarming, loneliness being one of the great evils of our century. In France alone, “in 2023, 12% of French people find themselves in a situation of total isolation, and one in three people have no or only one sociability network. Regarding the feeling of loneliness, one in five people surveyed indicate that they regularly feel alone (21%). Among them, 83% suffer from this situation, a figure up 4 points compared to 2020 ” according to the Fondation de France network. A situation which therefore worsens with the years.

  • A Harvard study correlated feelings of loneliness with a higher risk of stroke.
  • People suffering from chronic loneliness may see, in in the worst case, this risk increases by 56%.
  • These results should ideally be used to develop new strategies to prevent strokes.

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Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116