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Loneliness a bigger threat to health, study says

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Chronic loneliness and social isolation can increase a person's risk of pre-mature death, according to new research.

Researchers at Brigham Young University studied data from 300,000 individuals and found a 50 percent reduced risk of early death among adults with social connections. In another study, they looked at 3.4 million people, mostly from North America, and found that social isolation had a significant and equal effect on the risk of early death.

Prof. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D., a psychology and neuroscience professor behind the research, wonders if we are facing a "loneliness epidemic."

"The overall effect of this on risks for mortality is comparable with other risk factors such as obesity, physical inactivity, alcohol consumption," she said.

Holt-Lunstad said some people choose a lifestyle of isolation, but loneliness as a risk factor is more subjective.

"It really is more a discrepancy between one's desired level of social connection and one's actual level of social connection," she said.

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