Lack of Relationships as Dangerous as Smoking Cigarettes, Obesity

Having no friends or family can be as harmful to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic, a new study shows. The data also found that having a lack of social connections can be an even greater threat to your health than obesity.

This article published with permission from The Burrill Report.

A lack of social connections has been identified as a risk factor of mortality equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic and even a greater threat than not exercising or obesity, researchers at Brigham Young University find.

The study, published in the journal PLoS Medicine, found social connections to friends, family, neighbors or colleagues improve a person’s odds of survival by 50 percent. The PLoS editors say that the importance of social interaction is a risk factor of death that has not been widely recognized by health organization or the public.

The researchers analyzed data from 148 previously published longitudinal studies that measured frequency of human interaction and tracked health outcomes for a period of seven and a half years on average. Because information on relationship quality was unavailable, the 50 percent increased odds of survival may underestimate the benefit of healthy relationships.

“When someone is connected to a group and feels responsibility for other people, that sense of purpose and meaning translates to taking better care of themselves and taking fewer risks,” says Julianne Holt-Lunstad, one of the authors of the study.

In examining the data, the researchers looked at whether the results were driven primarily by people helping each other prolong their lives. However, they found the effect is not limited to older adults. Instead, they found relationships provide a level of protection across all ages.

“We take relationships for granted as humans — we’re like fish that don’t notice the water,” study co-author Timothy Smith says. “That constant interaction is not only beneficial psychologically but directly to our physical health.”

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