Sunday 19 January 2020

Genetic link shows 'tackling obesity can cut loneliness'

Similar areas in genes are linked to being obese or lonely. Stock picture: PA
Similar areas in genes are linked to being obese or lonely. Stock picture: PA

Sarah Knapton in London

The obesity epidemic could be fuelling the growing problem of loneliness, scientists believe, after discovering a genetic link between the two conditions.

Around a quarter of people over 65 in Britain suffer from loneliness, which can raise the risk of many diseases and can even cause people to die earlier, while nearly two-thirds are overweight.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge discovered that similar areas in genes which increase the likelihood of people being overweight also influence social isolation.

It is the first study to show a causal link between loneliness and obesity, and scientists suggest it is possible to tackle the loneliness epidemic by encouraging people to lose weight.

Dr John Perry, scientist at Cambridge University, said: "We often think loneliness is driven purely by our surrounding environment and life experiences, but this study demonstrates genes can also play a role.

"There is always a complex mix of genes and environment, but it does suggest that at a population level, if we could tackle obesity we would be able to bring down loneliness as well."

The team analysed genetic variation in 487,647 participants of the UK Biobank who had provided questionnaire responses about their perceived loneliness, the frequency of interactions with others and the quality of these interactions.

They then studied the genetic make-up of individuals to determine their susceptibility to loneliness. Those who considered themselves lonely had 'different spellings' of their DNA at 15 genetic locations.

The same genetic areas were similar for people who are overweight, and are linked to a brain region associated with emotional self-control.(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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