Reducing loneliness may lower death risk in obese people

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A new study offers hope for obese individuals facing social isolation, suggesting that addressing loneliness can significantly reduce health risks and early death.

Dr. Lu Qi, the study’s lead author from Tulane, emphasized the importance of considering social and mental health alongside dietary and lifestyle factors in tackling obesity-related health issues. This approach marks a shift from the traditional focus solely on physical factors.

The research, published in JAMA Network Open on January 22, analyzed data from the UK BioBank, tracking nearly 400,000 people from 2006 to 2021. Notably, the study participants did not have heart disease at the start.

The findings revealed a 36% lower mortality rate in obese individuals who experienced less loneliness and social isolation compared to a 9% decrease among those who were neither obese nor lonely.

Dr. Philipp Scherer from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School noted that the study’s results highlight the potential benefits of reducing social isolation to decrease mortality risk.

Loneliness, often overlooked in discussions about health, is increasingly recognized as a significant risk factor. A recent study showed that socially isolated individuals had a 32% higher chance of early death.

Rachael Benjamin, a licensed clinical social worker in New York City, points out that humans need social connections to feel validated and acknowledged. However, obese people often struggle with acceptance due to societal biases against fatness.

Overcoming these biases is challenging, but developing meaningful relationships can be a crucial step for obese individuals seeking to improve their mental and physical health.

Benjamin advises individuals to assess whether their isolation is a protective mechanism or a habit. She encourages taking proactive steps to connect with others, acknowledging that while it might be uncomfortable, it is a worthy and brave effort.

This study sheds light on the critical role of mental and social health in managing obesity, advocating for a more holistic approach to health interventions.

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The research findings can be found in JAMA Network Open.

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