While it’s commonly accepted that obesity is a major public health concern in the United States, new research has uncovered two bigger threats to people’s lives: loneliness and social isolation. Presenting the findings of their two meta-analyses of studies at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association in Washington, D.C., study co-author Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University (BYU), and colleagues revealed that loneliness and social isolation have the potential to increase people’s risk of premature death by as much as 50%. In fact, the researchers found that the risk of premature death associated with loneliness and social isolation was equal to or greater than for obesity. While people often think loneliness and social isolation are the same, there are actually notable differences between them. Social isolation, for example, is defined as a lack of contact with other people. Loneliness, on the other hand, is the feeling that a person is emotionally disconnected from other people. The bottom line being that a person can be in regular contact with other people, but still feel lonely. A 2016 Harris Poll of US adults found that 72% have felt lonely at some point in their lives, while just under a third said they feel lonely at least once a week. Prof. Holt-Lunstad said more needs to be done at a community level to tackle the loneliness epidemic being faced.