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Loneliness is deadlier than obesity and should be considered a public health risk, experts have warned.

Those with bad social connections have a 50 percent increased risk of early death compared to those with good social connections, a review of studies on loneliness suggests.

Researchers in the US looked at 218 studies into the health effects of loneliness and social isolation.

They discovered that social isolation raised a person’s risk of death by half compared to obesity, which raised the risk of death by just 30 percent.

Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, lead author and professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, said: “Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need, crucial to both well-being and survival.

“Extreme examples show infants in custodial care who lack human contact fail to thrive and often die, and indeed, social isolation or solitary confinement has been used as a form of punishment.

“Yet an increasing portion of the US population now experiences isolation regularly.”

Feeling lonely is thought to make people feel worse mentally and physically — and those who are lonely tend to suffer worse symptoms when they are unwell than those who aren’t.

A recent survey by Granset, the over-50s social networking site, found that almost three-quarters of older people in the UK are lonely and most have never spoken to someone about how they feel.

It also discovered that about 70 percent said their close friends and family would be surprised if they said they were lonely.