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Social Isolation Linked to Higher Risk of Death

Social Isolation Linked to Higher Risk of Death

A new study links social isolation with a higher risk of death.

Researchers at the American Cancer Society note that social isolation was associated with a higher risk of death from all causes, including heart disease, for all races studied. There also was an increased risk of death from cancer in white men and women, the study discovered.

According to researchers, addressing social isolation holds promise if studies show interventions are effective, as they could be relatively simple and could influence other risk factors, as social isolation is also associated with hypertension, inflammation, physical inactivity, smoking, and other health risks.

Social isolation has been linked to higher mortality in studies comprising mostly white adults, yet associations among black adults are unclear. The new prospective cohort study, led by the American Cancer Society’s Kassandra Alcaraz, PhD, MPH, evaluated whether associations of social isolation with all-cause, cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality differed by race and sex. The study analyzed data from 580,182 adults enrolled into Cancer Prevention Study-II in 1982-1983, who were followed through 2012.

The researchers ranked several standard components of social isolation — marital status, frequency of religious service attendance and club meetings and group activities, and number of close friends and relatives — giving a score of 0 (least isolated) or 1 (most isolated) on each of the factors for a total on a 5-point isolation scale. For instance, someone who was married, frequently attended religious services, attended club meetings and/or group activities, and had seven or more close friends was given an isolation score of 0. Someone with none of those would have an isolation score of 4.

They discovered that, overall, race seemed to be a stronger predictor of social isolation than sex. White men and white women were more likely to be in the least isolated category than black men and women.

In the full sample, a statistically significant, positive dose-response relationship was found between social isolation and mortality risk over the 30-year follow-up period. However, associations were significantly stronger in the first 15 years of follow up, the researchers noted.

A person’s social isolation score was positively associated with death from heart disease in all subgroups.

Although there was a positive association between social isolation score and cancer mortality among white men and white women, there was no association between social isolation score and cancer mortality among black men or black women, according to the study’s findings.

Each social isolation component was associated with all-cause and heart disease mortality, and all but one — having fewer close friends and relatives — were associated with cancer mortality.

The findings “indicate that a composite measure of social isolation is a robust predictor of mortality risk among men, women, blacks, and whites,” the researchers say in the study, which was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

“Compared with the least isolated, the most socially isolated black men and women had a more than twofold higher risk of death from any cause, and white men and women had 60 percent and 84 percent greater risks of death, respectfully.”

As the era of precision medicine develops, several influences on health, including social factors, are expected to become more important to clinical care, the researchers noted in the study.

Addressing social isolation is aligned with this more holistic approach, they said, adding, “lack of interpersonal connections seems particularly detrimental.”

Source: American Cancer Society

Social Isolation Linked to Higher Risk of Death

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Social Isolation Linked to Higher Risk of Death. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 Nov 2018 (Originally: 17 Nov 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 17 Nov 2018
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