Social Isolation Linked to Mortality Interview with:
Matthew S. Pantell, MD, MS
Department of Pediatrics
University of California, San Francisco What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Pantell: First of all, our study confirms the strong association between social isolation and mortality in a nationally representative sample from the US. Furthermore, it shows that, within the same national sample, social isolation is a similarly strong predictor of mortality as compared to smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Examining individual components of social isolation, our study shows that, among both women and men, not living with a partner and not participating in religious activities frequently are strong individual predictors of mortality. Finally, our work shows that infrequent social contact is associated with mortality among women, and not participating in social clubs/organizations is associated with mortality among men. Were any of the findings unexpected?

Dr. Pantell: It was a little surprising that obesity and cholesterol were not stronger predictors of mortality. But clinicians are used to monitoring for these risk factors and intervening, which may explain why they did not predict mortality that well. What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Pantell: Clinicians and patients should take away that it is important to be aware of and explore patients’ social situation. Social support is something that is not necessarily discussed in health care visits, but our study suggests that it is something that is just as predictive of death as traditional clinical risk factors. Knowing the amount of social support patients have can potentially help clinicians determine who might benefit from more health care surveillance. If two patients come in with the same medical problems and the only difference is that one is socially isolated and the other is very socially integrated, I would be more worried about the former. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Pantell: The next step would be to determine what to do with this information. Future studies should determine the possible benefits of screening for social isolation in clinical settings, as well as what interventions should be carried out once someone is identified as being socially isolated. These interventions may come in the form of increasing social support for that person, or, they may also be directed at more medical surveillance of that person. Finally, future studies should aim to understand the mechanisms through which social isolation increases mortality risk.


Social Isolation: A Predictor of Mortality Comparable to Traditional Clinical Risk Factors

Matthew Pantell, David Rehkopf, Douglas Jutte, S. Leonard Syme, John Balmes, and Nancy Adler.  (2013). Social Isolation: A Predictor of Mortality Comparable to Traditional Clinical Risk Factors. American Journal of Public Health. e-View Ahead of Print.

doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2013.301261