The Loneliness Epidemic: How it Impacts Health, Weight and Early Death

Lonely overweight man wearing glasses and a navy top sits on a bed looking sad.

A new study on loneliness and social isolation found some interesting results. For those classified as obese, the greatest risk factor of death was social isolation and loneliness. This may be shocking to some but loneliness has become a silent health crisis in the United States and beyond.

A Meta-Gallup survey in late 2023, found that nearly 1 in 4 adults from 142 countries across the world report feeling very or fairly lonely. And people who felt socially isolated were 32% more likely to die early than those who did not, according to a June 2023 study. Keep in mind, that this is just for those reporting their thoughts in a survey, it doesn’t count the millions of people who are struggling. In fact, health professionals, including the U.S. Surgeon General, have addressed that we’re in an epidemic of loneliness and isolation.

Loneliness is clearly a major issue in today’s society, affecting people of all ages, stages and backgrounds. While the emotional toll of loneliness is known, its impact on physical health, including its association with obesity (typically someone with a Body Mass Index or BMI over 30), hasn’t frequently been discussed. This new study has shown that treating loneliness and social isolation may put people classified as obese at a lower risk for health complications.

How Loneliness and Obesity are Connected

Emotional Eating:

Loneliness often triggers emotional eating as a coping mechanism. People may turn to food for comfort, seeking solace in unhealthy snacks and overeating. This emotional connection to food can contribute significantly to weight gain and obesity.

Sedentary Lifestyle:

Loneliness can lead to a sedentary lifestyle. Individuals who feel isolated may lack the motivation to engage in physical activities and exercise, leading to a decline in overall fitness and health. The combination of emotional eating and a lack of physical activity creates a perfect storm for obesity.

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6 Tips to Combat Loneliness and Help Maintain a Healthy Weight:

1. Limit Social Media:

Especially for younger people, social media is a way to connect but it can cause harm and feelings that one’s life isn’t as great or exciting as others. Realize that what you’re seeing on social media is often not reality.

Read our blog, 7 Tips Handle Anxiety & Depression During the Holidays & Beyond

2. Build Real Life Social Connections:

Actively seek out social connections to break the cycle of loneliness. Join clubs, classes, or community groups that align with your interests. Engaging with others can provide emotional support and reduce the likelihood of turning to food for comfort.

3. Foster Meaningful Relationships:

Focus on building meaningful relationships with friends and family. Quality connections are more important than quantity. Share your feelings and experiences with trusted individuals who can offer support and companionship.

4. Practice Mindful Eating:

Combat emotional eating by practicing mindful eating. Pay attention to your body’s hunger and fullness cues and choose nutritious foods (check out our blog 7 Nutritious Foods That Won’t Break the Bank) that nourish both your body and mind. Avoid using food as a means to cope with loneliness.

5. Incorporate Physical Activity:

Integrate regular physical activity into your routine. Exercise has proven benefits for both mental and physical health. Consider activities that you enjoy, whether it’s walking, dancing, or participating in group fitness classes. We have a blog outlining 5 Free and Easy Ways to Work Exercise Into Your Day

6. Seek Professional Help:

If loneliness is significantly impacting your well-being, consider seeking professional help. Therapists and counselors can provide valuable support and strategies to address the root causes of loneliness and its associated challenges.

Want more? You may be interested in reading our blog, Understanding PTSD: Causes, Symptoms and How to Help

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