Socially isolated people may be more likely to develop diabetes than adults with closer ties to family and friends, a recent study suggests.

Loneliness has long been linked to a wide variety of physical and mental health problems, particularly among chronically ill and elderly people.

With diabetes in particular, close friends and family can influence how patients eat, how much they exercise, and how well they keep the disease in check.

To see how these relationships may influence the odds of getting diabetes in the first place, researchers examined data on 2,861 adults who ranged in age from 40 to 75 and were 60 years old on average.

More than half of these people had normal blood sugar and no diagnosis of diabetes. But 430 people, or 15 percent, had slightly elevated blood sugar classified as pre-diabetes, while about 4 percent were newly diagnosed with diabetes when they joined the study.

On average, people without diabetes had 11 friends and family members in their social network, compared with fewer than 8 friends for people with newly or previously diagnosed diabetes, researchers report in BMC Public Health.

Every one-person reduction in the size of people’s social networks was associated with 12 percent higher odds of newly diagnosed diabetes in women and 10 percent higher odds for men, the study found.

This was also tied to 8 percent greater likelihood of a previous diabetes diagnosis in in women, and 5 percent greater odds for men.

At the same time, each 10 percent drop in the number of social network members living within walking distance was associated with 21 percent higher odds of a new diabetes diagnosis for women.

Every 10 percent increase in the proportion of the social network made of household members, meanwhile, was associated with 25 percent higher odds of a new diabetes diagnosis in women and 29 percent higher odds for men.

Living alone didn’t appear to influence the odds of diabetes for women. But for men, living alone was associated with 84 percent higher odds of a new diabetes diagnosis and 94 percent higher odds of a previous diagnosis.

The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how the number of people in social networks or the types of interactions within networks might influence the risk of diabetes.


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