Eating most meals alone could increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes in some people.
Men, in particular, who ate alone at least two times per day, were identified as more likely to have metabolic syndrome — a group of three or more dangerous risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and prediabetes signs — than their social-dinning peers, in a new study.
The authors of the paper, published in Obesity Research & Clinical Practice, wrote that in many parts of the world, families have become smaller more recently and that there are many more single-person households than in the past.
“At the same time,” they noted, “eating patterns have become irregular, informal and individualized in the form of more eating alone.”
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For the study, nearly 8,000 South Korean adults were asked how often they ate alone and the researchers compared their responses to health data — adjusting for factors like age, lifestyle choices, education levels, job status and exercise. They found that men who often ate alone had a 45% increased risk of obesity and a 64% increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
But women who ate alone at the same rate were only 29% more likely to have metabolic syndrome than those who always dined with someone else.
One of the possible reasons for poor health associated with eating solo may be that people are more likely to make unhealthy food choices, like eating less fruit and vegetables, if no one else is with them, according to another study, Time reported.
“Men who were not married and eating alone had much worse outcomes compared to others in the study, and that mirrors some other research that’s been done on social relationships and diet quality,” University of British Columbia assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences, Annalijn Conklin, told the magazine.
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She also said that the findings for women need to be researched further and that other factors that could influence the relationship between eating alone and metabolic syndrome, like stress, sleep quality and loneliness, need more investigation.
“Having more sensitive measures of stressful life events might help unpack some of the association a little better,” Conklin told Time. “We know that sleep deprivation and stress create a vicious loop that alters eating behavior, and it could be one of the things driving the experience of eating alone and of metabolic syndrome.”