March 16, 2016

Link Determined Between Lifestyle Factors and Loneliness

By Jenny Powers

MADRID -- March 16, 2016 -- Loneliness is often associated with poor lifestyle choices, health considerations such as diabetes, depression, and a perception of poorer health -- although causal links have not yet been established, according to findings from a large, cross-sectional, population-based, retrospective study presented here at the 24th European Congress of Psychiatry (EPA).

“Loneliness is a common emotional distress experience, and there is increasing evidence of associations with unhealthy lifestyle and adverse health-related factors,” stated lead author Aline Richard, MPH, PhD candidate, Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland, speaking here on March 14.

The aim of this study was to determine the prevalence of loneliness in a European society, and its association with behavioural, physical, and mental-health factors by examining a large cross-sectional population-based database. Dr. Richard and colleagues reviewed data from 20,007 subjects participating in the Swiss Health Survey 2012, which collects data every 5 years regarding the state of health of the permanent-resident population aged 15 and older.

The researchers used logistic regression analyses adjusted for sex and age to assess associations of loneliness with lifestyle- and health-related factors. They also used Wald tests to determine age and sex differences.

The incidence of loneliness was 64.1%, according to self-reports in the 20,007 subjects in this cohort.

Among health-related factors, loneliness was associated with high cholesterol levels (odds ratio [OR] 1.31; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.18 to 1.45), diabetes (OR 1.40, 95% CI, 1.16 to 1.67), self-reported chronic diseases (OR 1.41; 95% CI, 1.30 to 1.54), and impaired self-perceived health (OR 1.94; 95% CI, 1.74 to 2.16).

Loneliness was more strongly associated with self-reported moderate and high psychological distress (OR 3.74, 95% CI, 3.37 to 4.16) and depression (OR 2.78; 95% CI, 2.22 to 3.48).

Loneliness was also associated with several lifestyle factors, including smoking, (OR 1.13; 95% CI 1.05 to 1.23), physical inactivity (OR 1.20; 95% CI, 1.10 to 1.31), dietary nonadherence to the 5-a-day recommendation for fruit and vegetable consumption (OR 1.21; 95% CI, 1.07 to 1.37), and more visits to a physician within the last year (OR 1.29; 95% CI, 1.17 to 1.42).

Age was a factor that modified the associations with body mass index (BMI), smoking, visiting a physician within the past year, and self-perceived health, but sex did not affect these associations.

Although the link has been made between diabetes and similar conditions with BMI and lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise, what remains unclear is whether poor lifestyle choices like smoking are the result of loneliness or whether an inactive lifestyle with poor dietary choices leads to loneliness, the researchers concluded.

“What we can say from this analysis is that loneliness is associated with an unhealthy lifestyle, and poorer physical and mental health. Further longitudinal studies are needed to elucidate the causal relationships of these associations,” Dr. Richard summarised.

[Presentation title: Loneliness Is Adversely Associated with Lifestyle and Physical and Mental Health. Abstract FC03]
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