BACKGROUND: Research suggests that loneliness and social isolation (SI) are serious public health concerns. However, our knowledge of the associations of loneliness and SI with specific chronic diseases is limited.
PURPOSE: The present prospective cohort study investigated (a) the longitudinal associations of loneliness and SI with four chronic diseases (cardiovascular disease [CVD], chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD], diabetes mellitus Type 2 [T2D], and cancer), (b) the synergistic association of loneliness and SI with chronic disease, and (c) baseline psychological and behavioral explanatory factors.
METHODS: Self-reported data from the 2013 Danish "How are you?" survey (N = 24,687) were combined with individual-level data from the National Danish Patient Registry on diagnoses in a 5 year follow-up period (2013-2018).
RESULTS: Cox proportional hazard regression analyses showed that loneliness and SI were independently associated with CVD (loneliness: adjusted hazard ratio (AHR) = 1.20, 95% confidence interval [CI; 1.03, 1.40]; SI: AHR = 1.23, 95% CI [1.04, 146]) and T2D (loneliness: AHR =1.90, 95% CI [1.42, 2.55]; SI: AHR = 1.59, 95% CI [1.15, 2.21]). No significant associations were found between loneliness or SI and COPD and cancer, respectively. Likewise, loneliness and SI did not demonstrate a synergistic effect on chronic disease. Multiple mediation analysis indicated that loneliness and SI had an indirect effect on CVD and T2D through both baseline psychological and behavioral factors.
CONCLUSION: Loneliness and SI were independently associated with a diagnosis of CVD and T2D within a 5 year follow-up period. The associations of loneliness and SI with CVD and T2D were fully explained by baseline psychological and behavioral factors.