That’s according to researchers at the University of York. And the risk might be even higher if loneliness leads to inactivity and a poor diet.
A million older people in Britain say they are chronically lonely. A figure that is expected to rise by 600,000 in the next twenty years.
Other studies have shown that lonely people are 50% more likely to die early, a similar risk to drinking and smoking.
Dr Victoria Valtorta, who led the research, said “What it doesn’t tell you is whether people are at greater risk of developing disease or if people who are ill are less likely to recover if they’re lonely”
She analysed 23 studies involving 180,000 people and concluded that lonely people were also more likely to get heart disease or have a stroke.
“People with weaker social relationships had 29% greater risk of developing coronary heart disease than the people with stronger social relationships…. similarly people who were socially isolated had a 32% greater risk of developing a stroke”
Loneliness could cause disease through direct effects on the immune system or blood pressure, through the effects of depression, or because it makes people turn to cigarettes, alcohol and junk food.
Some doctors are experimenting with prescribing social clubs and gardening classes as part of a “social prescribing” approach but there is no evidence yet that these actually work.
The Campaign to End Loneliness said “Loneliness is becoming a silent epidemic in our society. It’s the responsibility of our community as a whole to tackle it”