MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
NIHR Doctoral Research Fellow
Department of Health Sciences
University of York, UK
Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: Lonely and socially isolated adults are at increased risk of mortality. The influence of social relationships on morbidity is widely accepted, but the size of the risk to cardiovascular health is unclear. We systematically reviewed the evidence from prospective cohort studies to investigate the association between loneliness or social isolation and incident coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke. We identified 23 papers reporting data from 16 longitudinal datasets, for a total of 4,628 CHD and 3,002 stroke events. Reports of eleven studies (CHD) and eight studies (stroke) provided data suitable for meta-analyses, the results of which indicated that deficiencies in social relationships are associated with an increased risk of developing CHD and stroke. People who were lonely or isolated had, on average, a 29% greater risk of incident CHD; similarly, the risk of developing stroke was 32% greater among isolated individuals.
Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Response: We take risk factors like obesity and physical inactivity for granted, whereas we do not yet with social isolation and loneliness. The data support us taking it seriously. If we put the study findings into context, what we found is comparable in size to the effect of other psychosocial risk factors such as anxiety and job strain. From the perspective of public health, what our findings suggest is that efforts to prevent CHD and stroke would benefit from talking social isolation and loneliness into account.
Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Response: Our findings suggest that tackling loneliness and isolation may be a valuable addition to CHD and stroke prevention strategies. Evaluative research is needed to investigate whether interventions that target loneliness and social isolation can improve people’s social relationships, and have a beneficial impact on a range of health outcomes.
Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke: systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal observational studies
TheBMJ April 19 2016