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Impact of Loneliness – Useful Data for Funding Applications

This information is taken from the September 2016 edition of East Sussex County Council's Funding News and may be useful to any organisations submitting a funding application related to reducing people's isolation.

Having no friends could be as deadly as smoking, researchers at Harvard University have suggested,after discovering a link between loneliness and the levels of a blood-clotting protein which can cause heart attacks and stroke.

Social isolation is known to activate the ‘fight or flight’ stress signal which increases levels of protein fibrinogen in anticipation of injury and blood loss.  But too much fibrinogen is bad for health,raising blood pressure and causing the build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries.

Harvard researchers compared levels of the blood-clotting protein with the numbers of friends and family in a person’s social network and found a striking correlation.  As the number of social connections fell,the level of fibrinogen rose.

People with just five people in their social network had 20% higher levels fibrinogen than those with 25.  Having 10-12 fewer friends had the same impact on levels as
taking up smoking.

It is thought that social isolation leaves people feeling threatened and vulnerable which triggers an ongoing ‘fight or flight’ response which can be lethal in the long term.

A recent study by the University of York found that lonely people are around 30 percent more likely to suffer a stroke or heart disease, two of the leading causes  of death in Britain. But the reasons have remained unclear.  Some researchers thought it was simply that there were fewer people to notice when a person was ill or encourage them to take care of their health.

In January, the Local Government Association said loneliness should be treated as a ‘major health issue’, while charity Age UK claim the issue "blights the lives" of over a
million older people.

But although loneliness is often viewed as a problem for older people,a recent study by the Mental Health Foundation

‘major health issue’, while charity Age UK claim the issue "blights the lives" of over a million older people.

But although loneliness is often viewed as a problem for older people, a recent study by the Mental Health Foundation found that 18- to 34-year-olds were likely to feel lonely more often than over-55s.

The research was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B biological sciences journal.