"Based on these findings, it should be as important to encourage adolescents and young adults to build broad social relationships and social skills for interacting with others as it is to eat healthy and be physically active," said one of the researchers Kathleen Harris, professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, US.
‘The sheer size of a person's social network is important for health in early and late adulthood.’
The study builds on previous research that shows that aging adults live longer if they have more social connections. Specifically, the team found that the sheer size of a person's social network was important for health in early and late adulthood.
In adolescence, that is, social isolation increased risk of inflammation by the same amount as physical inactivity while social integration protected against abdominal obesity.
In old age, social isolation was actually more harmful to health than diabetes on developing and controlling hypertension. In middle adulthood, it was not the number of social connections that mattered, but what those connections provided in terms of social support or strain, the study said.
"The relationship between health and the degree to which people are integrated in large social networks is strongest at the beginning and at the end of life, and not so important in middle adulthood, when the quality, not the quantity, of social relationships matters," Harris said.
For the study, the researchers drew on data from four nationally representative surveys of the US population that, together, covered the lifespan from adolescence to old age. The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences