Loneliness is as great a health risk as obesity, new research reveals.
Social connections reduce the risk of dying early by 50 percent, a study review found.
Being isolated or living alone significantly increase the chance of dying prematurely at a rate equal to, or greater than, obesity, the research adds.
Previous research has linked loneliness with a reduced quality of life and therefore shorter life expectancy.
Study author Julianne Holt-Lunstad from Brigham Young University, said: there is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators.
Approximately 42.6 million adult over 45 in the US are lonely. One-quarter of the population also lives alone. In the UK, 3.9 million people say the television is their main source of company.
Two study reviews were conducted.
The first had 148 studies of more than 300,000 participants.
The second involved 70 trials of more than 3.4million people from North America, Europe, Asia and Australia.
Results of the first study review reveal social connections reduce the risk of an early death by 50 percent.
The second analysis found that social isolation, loneliness and living alone have a significant and equal effect on the chance of dying prematurely.
The risk was found to be equal to, or greater than, the effect of obesity on early death.
Although the researchers did not speculate on why there is a link between loneliness and passing away prematurely, previous research has identified an association between quality of life and life expectancy.
Loneliness has also previously been found to dampen a person’s immune system.
As many as 35 percent of men in Britain feel lonely at least once a week, while 11 percent admit to suffering with the emotion every day, according to a study by the Commission by Royal Voluntary Service.
Moving away from family and friends is the main driver of loneliness, causing 18 per cent of cases, the research adds.
Going through a break up, being unemployed and the death of a family member are the causes in 17 per cent of sufferers, the study found.
Over 25 percent of men aged 65 to 69 blame retirement for their loneliness, the research adds.
Dr Holt-Lunstad said, ‘Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need which is crucial to both wellbeing and survival.
‘Extreme examples show infants in custodial care who lack human contact fail to thrive and often die, and indeed, social or solitary confinement has been used as a form of punishment.
‘There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators.