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.
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.
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).
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.
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.