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  • Writer's pictureMark McMinn

Loneliness Alert

When our parents had us eat our vegetables, they probably weren't thinking of French fries. But here are a couple findings from some large research studies that may surprise you.

Finding 1 (from a huge study of 410,000 adults):

Eating 3-6 servings of white potatoes a week increases your mortality risk over 15 years by 1%. If you eat 7 or more servings per week, your mortality risk increases by 17%. Oh, and it doesn't matter much how your white potatoes are prepared.

Finding 2 (from a huge meta-analysis of 70 studies):

Social isolation increases your mortality risk by 46%. Loneliness increases it by 52%. Social isolation is the objective state of spending a good deal of time by yourself, while loneliness is the subjective feeling of being left out or isolated from others. Feeling lonely is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.

My conclusion:

Go ahead and eat French fries, but eat them with a friend.

Please notice that Finding 2 could easily be misleading because it is impossible to determine cause and effect without randomly assigning people to be lonely. It's possible, likely even, that people with severe medical problems are more socially isolated than others, so it is difficult (i.e., impossible) to know how much isolation causes mortality risk, and how much the two are simply correlated.

Sources: Maryam Hashemian, Gwen Murphy, Arash Etemadi, Linda M. Liao, Sanford M. Dawsey, Reza Malekzadeh, and Christian C. Abnet. “Potato Consumption and the Risk of Overall and Cause Specific Mortality in the NIH-AARP Study.” PloS One 14(5) (2019): E0216348.

Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Timothy B. Smith, Mark Baker, Tyler Harris, and David Stephenson. “Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review.” Perspectives on Psychological Science 10(2) (2015): 227-37. As with the potato consumption study, these data are adjusted for age and gender.

Jena McGregor, “This Former Surgeon General Says There’s a ‘Loneliness Epidemic’ and Work is Partly to Blame.” The Washington Post (October 4, 2017). Retrieved at


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