Watch out solo eaters! Eating alone may give you more than just heartaches and heartburns, a new study has revealed it could raise your risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.
Today, a remarkable number of adults are opting to stay single. “Table for one” is a common phrase heard in restaurants all over. However, it may not be a good idea, especially if you’re a man. A Korean study revealed men who are used to eating alone at least two times a day may be more prone to developing heart disease and diabetes than men who usually dine with others.
Past study has also raised alarm about the emotional and physical health outcomes of dining alone, and the greater predicament of loneliness, particularly among the elderlies.
For their study, the researchers recruited almost 8,000 South Korean adults. The participants had to answer how often they had their meals alone. Their responses were compared to health data – adjusting for age, education levels, smoking habit, alcohol consumption, occupation status and physical exercise.
For male participants, eating alone at least twice a day was linked with a 45% higher risk of developing obesity and a 64% higher risk of being afflicted by metabolic syndrome — a group of 3 or more risk factors including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and prediabetes — compared to those who never ate alone.
For unmarried men, eating alone posed the greatest risk for developing metabolic syndrome; they had more than 3 times the risk compared to men who normally dined with someone else.
The effect however, was less striking in women. Female participants, who ate by themselves at least two times a day were at 29% higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome compared to those who never dined alone. But, this contrast vanished when the women’s lifestyle and socioeconomic factors were adjusted for.
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Past studies have shown that people who are inclined to dine alone may be socially isolated, lonely and more likely to opt for unhealthier foods, include fruits and vegetables in their diets and dine during odd hours.
The study couldn’t show a causality between eating alone developing metabolic syndrome, because it didn’t ask participants about the kind of food they consumed or their rationalities for eating alone. Bad diet and inferior lifestyle choices are thought to trigger metabolic syndrome.
Additionally, the findings may not apply to individuals dwelling in other countries, where citizens don’t usually eat alone. The custom is more prevalent in the U.S., just like it’s in Korea.
Annalijn Conklin of University of British Columbia also studied how living alone and eating alone impacts physical health. She isn’t surprised at the results of the study, especially those concerning men.
Conklin says unmarried men having worse outcomes of eating alone compared to others reflects some other studies that has been conducted on social connections and food quality. She says that findings for women should be studied further since it is not very clear.
Andrew Abeyta, an assistant professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, isn’t surprised by the association between loneliness and ill health either, because loneliness has always posed risk of developing chronic illnesses and early death.
Abeyta says that we depend on emotional bonds for mental support and stress management. Lonely people do not have a strong social backing and are therefore more helpless to the physical harm caused by stress and anxiety. As a result, they are at greater risk of developing stress-related diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure, explains Abeyta.
Conklin says future studies should examine other factors such as sleep quality and stress levels, because these could possibly explain the association between eating alone and developing metabolic syndrome. Because the way it was designed, this study failed to show whether dining alone may be a result of loneliness, sleep problems, or stress or vice versa.
We know that stress and sleep deprivation crates a vicious cycle that changes eating habit, and it could be something that fueled the occurrence of dining solo and of metabolic syndrome, Conklin explains.
The study was published in the journal Obesity Research & Clinical Practice.
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