Loneliness is a major, growing threat to older Americans’ health and longevity.
Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychology researcher at Brigham Young University, on Thursday told members of the Senate Special Committee on Aging that isolation is about as dangerous as obesity.
(Related: Tips for Healthy Living)
Studies show that strong social connections can reduce the risk of early death by about 50%, Holt-Lunstad said at the hearing, which was held in Washington and streamed live on the web.
“The magnitude of effect of social connection mortality risk is comparable to, and, in many cases, exceeds that of other well-accepted risk factors,” Holt-Lunstad said.
In addition to being about as dangerous as obesity, isolation appears to be about as risky as smoking 15 cigarettes per day, Holt-Lunstad said. In the United States, that’s the equivalent of smoking three-quarters of a pack of cigarettes per day.
Isolation may affect more than 8 million older U.S. adults, and there are signs that social disconnection is increasing, Holt-Lunstad said. Average household size has decreased, and the average size of an American’s social network has dropped by one-third since 1985, she said.
The Senate Committee on Aging posted a video recording of the hearing on its website.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the chairman of the committee, said she organized the hearing because of concerns about proposed Trump administration cuts in funding for support programs for isolated older Americans.
“These cuts are penny wise and pound foolish,” Collins said.