A new study suggests that mealtime social interactions, or lack thereof, can affect a person's susceptibility to develop prediabetes.
Previous research highlighted the importance of social support and being in a group setting in preventing psychological health decline in people with type 2 diabetes.
In this study, Korean scientists from Dongguk University Ilsan Hospital investigated the impact of eating alone on metabolic risk and the prevalence of metabolic syndrome.
The metabolic syndrome (also referred to as prediabetes) is a collection of conditions that, when taken together, vastly increase the risk of ill health.
Having metabolic syndrome is associated with a five-fold elevated risk of type 2 diabetes and a two- to three-fold increase in the risk of heart disease.
The syndrome is defined as having three or more of the following five criteria: high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, expanding waistline, elevated triglycerides or low HDL cholesterol. The study looked at the effect of eating alone on these risk factors.
Researchers followed 7725 male and female participants of the Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (KNHANES) who self-reported their eating habits, including whether they ate alone and how often – once, twice or more per day.
They also evaluated other sociodemographic factors, such as living alone, that can further increase the risk of developing metabolic syndrome when eating solo.
They found a higher prevalence of the metabolic syndrome in both males and females who were eating alone more than twice a day, compared to people who never ate alone.
In men, those eating alone two times or more per day had increased abdominal obesity (29.4 % vs. 22.8 %) and a higher probability of having impaired fasting glucose (41.6% vs. 36.9%), compared with men never eating alone. They also had higher blood pressure.
The likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome was three times as high for men eating alone frequently who were also single. Further, women eating alone only once a day had a lower relative risk for metabolic syndrome than women eating alone two or more times per day.
These findings echo the result of earlier studies that found that social isolation is an underestimated determinant of cardiometabolic health.
A 2015 meta-analysis showed that social isolation, loneliness and living alone increase the risk of mortality by 30 per cent. And poor social relationships have been associated with a 29 per cent increase in the risk of stroke and coronary heart disease.
It is thought that, when people are socially isolated, their ability to deal with disease decreases. They become more vulnerable to stress and anxiety, which in turn puts them at higher risk for metabolic problems.
Overall, this study suggests that eating alone may increase the risk of developing metabolic syndrome and that seeking social contact might help to reduce the risk.