Going out for dinner with friends is one of the undisputed joys of life but new research suggests it may also be good for our physical health, after scientists found that eating alone increases an individual’s risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.
It was concluded that men who dined solo at least twice a day were more likely to display symptoms such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and prediabetes when compared to those who always dined with others.
Scientists compared health data and survey responses from 7,725 South Korean adults after asking them how often they ate by themselves. For men, eating alone was associated with a 45% increased risk of being obese and a 64% increased risk of having metabolic syndrome (a cluster of several risk factors, including the ones listed above). Unmarried men who ate alone had the highest overall risk – three times that of the participants who said they usually dined with someone else.
Meanwhile, women who often ate alone at least twice a day were just 29% more likely to have metabolic syndrome than their group-dining peers. However – unlike the men’s category – these differences largely disappeared when adjustments were made to allow for socioeconomic status and lifestyle factors. Commenting on the study was Annalijn Conklin, assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of British Columbia. She has previously studied health outcomes associated with living and eating alone, and is not surprised by the results.
“Men who were not married and eating alone had much worse outcomes compared to others in the study, and that mirrors some other research that’s been done on social relationships and diet quality.”
The authors note that the rise in loneliness, one-parent families and smaller family units in general may also have an impact. Professor Conklin added:
“Having more sensitive measures of stressful life events might help unpack some of the association a little better… We know that sleep deprivation and stress create a vicious loop that alters eating behaviour, and it could be one of the things driving the experience of eating alone and of metabolic syndrome.”
A shortfall of this study is that it is self-reported and can’t show whether eating alone is a choice or a byproduct of a bigger problem (such as those mentioned by Conklin) or vice versa.