New research at the University of North Carolina has found that being lonely is as harmful to teenagers' health as not getting enough exercise.
There have been many studies showing the health effects of social isolation on the elderly, but this is the first to look at the impact on the young. The researchers at UNC said their findings demonstrated that it was as important to encourage young people to build social skills as it was to tell them to eat well and exercise. The researchers looked at how connected and involved the teenagers were with their family, friends, school and neighborhood.
Professor Kathleen Mullan Harris, a professor of sociology at UNC, said those with fewer social connections were at higher risk of inflammation or abdominal obesity. "The reason that we chose these health issues, all of them are highly related to important diseases that will come along later in life; including heart disease, stroke, cancer, immune function."
The researchers monitored physical activity and discovered that whether lonely teenagers exercised or not they still had poor health outcomes. She said the researchers concluded that a person's relationship with other people helped to buffer many of the daily stressors that people experienced each day. "So when you're socially isolated you don't have that advantage and then your body feels sort of the full impact of the daily stressors that we confront every day."