New Study Identifies Key Factor for Mortality in Individuals with Obesity

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A new study suggests that addressing loneliness and social isolation could potentially reduce the risk of health complications for individuals classified as obese. The prevalence of loneliness is widespread globally, with a significant impact on individuals who are obese, according to a recent report. According to Dr. Lu Qi, the lead author of the study published in JAMA Network Open, the primary emphasis in preventing obesity-related illness is currently on dietary and lifestyle factors.

“Our study emphasizes the significance of considering social and mental health when it comes to enhancing the overall well-being of individuals with obesity,” stated Qi, a professor and interim chair of the department of epidemiology at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans.

The study analyzed data from almost 400,000 individuals who are part of the UK BioBank, a comprehensive biomedical database and research resource that tracks individuals over an extended period of time.

The individuals involved in the study did not have any pre-existing cardiovascular conditions at the start of data collection. According to the study, researchers conducted a follow-up between March 2006 and November 2021.

During that period, the data revealed a significant finding: individuals who experienced less loneliness and social isolation had a 36% lower rate of all causes of death among those classified as obese.

“In the development of intervention strategies for preventing obesity-related complications, it is crucial to consider integrating social and psychological factors alongside other dietary and lifestyle factors,” Qi emphasized.

A recent study revealed that social isolation poses a higher risk for various causes of mortality, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease, compared to factors like depression, anxiety, and lifestyle choices including alcohol consumption, exercise, and diet.

According to Dr. Philipp Scherer, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and an esteemed researcher in diabetes at the Touchstone Diabetes Center in Dallas, the findings come as no surprise. Scherer had no involvement in the study. The findings suggest that addressing social isolation could potentially help reduce mortality rates.

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A social network has numerous benefits for one’s well-being.

Although often overlooked in discussions about health, the impact of loneliness on overall well-being is increasingly being acknowledged.

A recent study conducted in June 2023 found that individuals who experienced social isolation had a 32% higher risk of premature death compared to those who did not.

In the words of Turhan Canli, a professor of integrative neuroscience at Stony Brook University, feeling lonely on a permanent basis can have negative effects on our health. It can act as a form of chronic stress, which is not good for us.

“One possible mechanism is the impact of stress hormones on the body,” stated Canli, who was not part of the recent study.

Professor Canli, there may be a link between loneliness and negative health outcomes, possibly due to socially isolated individuals being less likely to seek medical care or engaging in other unhealthy behaviors like smoking and alcohol use.

“Maintaining a social network is similar to other health-promoting activities such as exercising regularly, eating well, and taking care of yourself,” Canli stated.

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How to start being less lonely

According to Rachael Benjamin, a licensed clinical social worker based in New York City, the abundance of online networking options does not necessarily lead to reduced feelings of loneliness. It is essential for us as individuals to be recognized by others in order to truly feel acknowledged and validated in our existence.

According to Benjamin, even individuals who have frequent interactions with others can still experience feelings of loneliness and isolation if they do not feel connected to their community. According to her, communities often create barriers that make it more difficult for individuals with obesity to feel understood and accepted, which can be attributed to fatphobia.

Overcoming the prejudice they face is a challenge that cannot be tackled by a single person. According to Benjamin, there are measures one can take to improve the quality of their relationships.

What defines a quality relationship? According to her, it’s a place where you can truly be yourself, without any need to put on a facade.

“Two individuals can experience a sense of being acknowledged, understood, and engaged, allowing them to interact in a playful manner,” Benjamin expressed. It is important for individuals to feel valued and to express their emotions truthfully.

To reach that point, she suggests beginning by examining oneself. Do you find yourself isolating yourself as a means of protection or out of habit? Now, it’s time to develop a fresh routine: ensuring you are consistently accessible for connecting with others.

Benjamin expressed a willingness to step out of his comfort zone and take risks.

Lastly, it’s completely normal if it takes some time to develop strong connections. Building strong connections requires patience, she emphasized.

“It simply requires dedication and perseverance,” she stated.

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