FEB 18, 2024 9:49 PM PST

Social Isolation and Loneliness Linked to Detrimental Eating Behaviors

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

 Social isolation and loneliness are linked to detrimental food and eating behaviors. The corresponding review was published in Appetite

Loneliness is typically defined as a lack of meaningful connection with a social network or companion, whereas social isolation is an objective lack of interaction with others. Research suggests that social relationships affect eating behaviors. For example, one study found that acute isolation leads to social craving in a similar manner to hunger in response to not eating. Research also suggests that emotions may provoke emotional eating behavior, which could contribute to chronic disease risk. 

Understanding more about how loneliness and social isolation affect eating behaviors could improve understanding of both conditions and inform interventions to prevent negative health consequences. 

For the current study, researchers conducted a review of 29 studies published between 2000 and 2023 that investigated the link between loneliness or social isolation on food and eating behaviors. 

“27 of the 29 studies that met the eligibility criteria found at least one association between loneliness or social isolation and one or more food/eating behaviors that would usually be considered harmful to health,” said study author Dr. Katherine Hanna from the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia in a press release

“These included lower fruit and vegetable intake, higher intake of energy-dense-nutrient-poor foods, and lower overall diet quality. [...] Eight of the studies were conducted in COVID-19 lockdowns, and most of the results suggested the association between loneliness or social isolation and food/eating behaviors had usually remained when people were in lockdown circumstances,” she added. 

The researchers noted that the results could be interesting for dietitians and nutritionists who must consider the potential impact of loneliness or social isolation on food choices. They also noted that the research highlights the possible importance of loneliness and social isolation in influencing food and eating behaviors to the general public. 

They wrote, however, that the findings should be interpreted with caution due to the range of measures used among the studies, alongside the inconsistent use of validated tools. Dr. Hanna further said that as most studies only assessed a single point in time, cause and effect could not be determined. 

“Further research on this topic could allow for a clearer understanding on how to apply the findings in practice and the role of food and eating in the relationship between loneliness or social isolation and health outcomes," concluded Dr. Hanna.


Source: Neuroscience NewsAppetite

About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Annie Lennon is a writer whose work also appears in Medical News Today, Psych Central, Psychology Today, and other outlets.
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