A new survey into more than 200 studies on loneliness has found isolation has a greater effect on life chances than weight.
Social connections are “crucial” to human well-being, with isolation being a growing public health hazard.
The investigation found that while obesity increases your chances of an early death by 30%, loneliness can increase it by 50%.
Those with weak social connections – which can often be a consequence of being single, the survey cites – are at an increased risk of having a lower quality of life.
Factors such as moving to a new area or not having sufficient time to socialise can also lead to serious problems with isolation, the study notes.
Lead author Dr Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Professor of Psychology at Brigham Young University, Utah, said: “Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need – crucial to both well-being and survival.
“Extreme examples show infants in custodial care who lack human contact fail to thrive and often die, and indeed, social isolation or solitary confinement has been used as a form of punishment.”
Researchers concluded that loneliness and social isolation pose a greater risk to public health than obesity.
Dr Holt-Lunstad said: “There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators.
“With an increasing ageing population, the effect on public health is only anticipated to increase.
“Indeed, many nations around the world now suggest we are facing a ‘loneliness epidemic’.”
Previous studies have found that gay and bisexual people are more likely to face mental health challenges.
A study has found that gay and bisexual people are disproportionately affected by mental health issues compared to their straight counterparts.
11% of gay men and 15% of bisexual men reported experiencing mental health issues, compared to 5% of heterosexual men.
Among trans teenagers, a recent report indicated that 40% of trans teens have considered taking their own lives.
The number of calls from trans teens to help hotlines have doubled since Trump became US president.
Readers who are affected by the issues raised in this story can contact Samaritans on 116 123 (www.samaritans.org), or Mind on 0300 123 3393 (www.mind.org.uk).