A major, new study from The Netherlands published last Christmas Eve showed the devastating health effects of social isolation. Turns out, it may even prove deadlier than a poor diet, obesity, or smoking.
In fact, in a recent interview, former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy spoke of the far-reaching health effects of loneliness. He said, “loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes [more than a half-pack] per day and even greater than that associated with obesity.”
For the new study, researchers found that socially isolated people are more likely to develop Type II diabetes than people with closer ties to family and friends. This finding makes sense, as your family and close friends influence how, what, and when you eat. They also influence how much you exercise. And how well you manage and monitor blood sugar.
Stronger social connections associated with health
Researchers in this study looked at data on 2,861 adults with an average age of 60 years. And they categorized the participants by blood sugar control at the study’s outset:
- 57 percent of participants had normal blood sugar and no diagnosis of Type II diabetes
- 15 percent had pre-diabetes with slightly increased blood sugar
- 4 percent had newly diagnosed Type II diabetes
- 24 percent had previously been diagnosed with Type II diabetes
Researchers asked the participants about their social network size, frequency of contact, types of relationships (family, friends, acquaintances), living alone, and social activities.
Overall, socially isolated individuals were found to be diagnosed with Type II diabetes more often than individuals with larger social networks.
And now onto some specifics…
On average, people without Type II diabetes at the study’s outset had 11 friends and family members in their social network. By comparison, people with newly diagnosed or previously diagnosed Type II diabetes at the study’s outset had fewer than eight people in their social network.
Men living alone fared the worst. They had a 94 percent higher risk of having Type II diabetes.
Plus, each decrease in the number of people in the participant’s social network was associated with up to 12 percent higher odds of having newly diagnosed or previously diagnosed Type II diabetes, as compared to those with normal glucose metabolism.
Getting involved in social clubs also played a role…
For example, evidence linked lack of participation in clubs or other social groups with 60 percent higher odds of having prediabetes and 112 percent higher odds of having Type II diabetes compared to women with normal blood sugar. In men, evidence linked lack of social participation with 42 percent higher odds of having Type II diabetes.
Proximity also mattered…
Location, location, location
The researchers found that participants benefitted from having a “close” social network ¾ within walking distance. And the more “close” friends and family within walking distance, the lower their odds of having newly diagnosed or previously diagnosed Type II diabetes. Mind you, the study also found that participants need a social network beyond who they live with.
This finding seems to suggest expanding your personal social circle plays an important role in preventing the disease, as I always advise.
Simple, common-sense approaches for preventing Type II diabetes
Presently, health practitioners counsel people diagnosed with Type II diabetes ¾ and those who are at increased risk of developing diabetes ¾ to eat a healthy, low-carb diet and engage in healthy physical activity. And those approaches do play an important part.
However, they aren’t the only factors.
According to this study, encouraging men and women to improve social connections may be just as important. In fact, some experts suggest using social network size and participation in social activities as indicators of Type II diabetes risk.
Wouldn’t that be an interesting approach? Advising doctors to ask their patients about their social connections instead of their cholesterol levels!?
Plus, previous studies show social isolation affects your risk of developing other chronic diseases. In fact, evidence links it with the development of brain diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and premature death.
Get out of the house every day. Get involved in the community. Join a club. And connect regularly with friends and family. Your health depends on it.
In addition, you can learn about all the natural approaches to preventing and reversing high blood sugar and Type II diabetes in my new online learning protocol. Click here to learn more about it or to enroll today.
“Socially isolated individuals are more prone to have newly diagnosed and prevalent type 2 diabetes mellitus – the Maastricht study,” BMC Public Health 2017; 17: 955