A large American Cancer Society study links social isolation with a higher risk of death from all causes combined and heart disease for all races studied, and with increased cancer mortality in white men and women. The study, appearing in the American Journal of Epidemiology, says addressing social isolation holds promise if studies show interventions are effective, as they could be relatively simple and could influence other risk factors, as social isolation is also associated with hypertension, inflammation, physical inactivity, smoking, and other health risks.

Social isolation has been linked to higher mortality in studies comprising mostly white adults, yet associations among black adults are unclear. The new prospective cohort study, led by the American Cancer Society’s Kassandra Alcaraz, Ph.D., MPH, evaluated whether associations of social isolation with all-cause, cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality differed by race and sex. The study analyzed data from 580,182 adults enrolled into Cancer Prevention Study-II in 1982/1983, who were followed for mortality through 2012.

Investigators weighted several standard components of social isolation -marital status, frequency of religious service attendance and club meetings/group activities, and number of close friends/relatives–giving a score of 0 (least isolated) or 1 (most isolated) on each of the factors for a total on a 5-point isolation scale. For instance, someone who was married, frequently attended religious services, attended club meetings and/or group activities, and had seven or more close friends was given an isolation score of 0. Someone with none of those would have an isolation score of 4.

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