Fewer Friends Equals Higher Diabetes Risk

People with few friends or social contacts, the socially isolated, are more likely to develop diabetes than are those with closer ties to friends and family, says a new study. This is the latest in a group of studies which have shown that loneliness is linked to a variety of physical and mental health problems. It's the first to show a direct link with diabetes, where others before have shown a link to diabetic outcomes.

We know that having friends and family close can improve the lifestyles and health of diabetics, including influencing how much they eat, exercise, and otherwise keep their disease in check. Now we know that having close friends and family can also mean a lower risk of getting diabetes in the first place.

The study, conducted by lead researchers in the Netherlands, examined 2,861 adults ranging in age from 40 to 75, with about half having no diabetes or pre-diabetes diagnosis. About 430 of those in the study were pre-diabetic, 4 percent were newly-diagnosed as diabetic, and 24 percent were already diagnosed as diabetic.

People without diabetes had more friends than did those with the disease.

On average, people who were diabetic had less than 8 friends or family members they regularly kept in contact with. Those without diabetes had an average of 11. “Currently, high-risk groups receive advice to become more physically active and eat healthier without any inquiries about their social situation,” said lead study author Stephanie Brinkhues, a researcher at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.

Every one-person reduction to a person's social network is associated with a 12 percent higher odds risk of newly-diagnosed diabetes for women and 10 percent higher odds for men. Those with diabetes were overall tied to smaller networks, with risks increasing as the network shrinks.

Household members were most important, it was found, with higher odds of a new diabetes diagnosis, the study found. Living alone had little effect on women's odds, however, but a huge effect on men's odds, increasing odds of a new diabetes diagnosis by 84 percent.

The study's authors note that the experiment was not controlled and that the activities and associations within the social network measurements were not measured as part of the study. The study looked merely at the size of people's social networks and measured the odds of diabetes being involved. The study is considered an opening towards a more comprehensive study of how social networks affect diabetic odds and outcomes.

Sources: BMC Public Health and Reuters

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