Social Connection: An under-appreciated determinant of heath
The importance of human connection and concerns over the effects of isolation rose to the level of a simultaneous public health crisis during the Covid-19 pandemic; however, much of the focus was on secondary effects on mental health and emotional well-being. There is now robust evidence from decades of interdisciplinary science documenting the protective effects of social connections on health and longevity, and evidence that lacking social connection qualifies as a risk factor for chronic disease and premature mortality. This talk will summarize this evidence, providing the scope of the health effects, potential mechanisms and risk factors, as well as potential solutions to reduce risk. Importantly, this evidence points to several implications for solutions across sectors focused on individuals, communities, and society.
Speaker bio: Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD is a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, where she was recently named the Martin B Hickman Outstanding Scholar and is also the director of the social neuroscience lab. She also has an adjunct professorship at Iverson Health Innovation Research Institute Swinburne University of Technology; Melbourne, Australia; and the founding Scientific Chair for the US Coalition to End Social Isolation and Loneliness and the Foundation for Social Connection.
Dr. Holt-Lunstad’s research is focused on the long-term health effects of social connection and her work has been seminal in the recognition of social isolation and loneliness as risk factors for early mortality. Her program of research takes an interdisciplinary and multi-level approach to understanding the associations between social relationships and long-term health outcomes, factors that may moderate the association, and the biological (autonomic, neuroendocrine, gene) pathways by which these associations occur. She has also recently begun work that examines how social relationships may be utilized in interventions to potentially reduce risk.
Dr. Holt-Lunstad has worked with government organizations aimed at addressing this issue. She has provided expert testimony in a US Congressional Hearing, expert recommendations for the US Surgeon General Emotional Well-Being in America Initiative, served as a member of the scientific advisory committee for the UK Cross Departmental Loneliness Team, and a member of a National Academy of Sciences Engineering & Medicine consensus committee, and the US Administration for Community Living. She also serves as a scientific advisor for several organizations across sectors. She has been awarded the the George A. Miller Award from the American Psychological Association, Karl G. Maeser Distinguished Faculty Research Award, Mary Lou Fulton Young Scholar Award, Marjorie Pay Hinkley Endowed Chair Research Award from BYU, and is a Fellow for the Association of Psychological Science and American Psychological Association. Her work has been highlighted in the BBC 100 Breakthrough Health Discoveries in 2015, and has been covered in the New York Times, The Washington Post, Time Magazine, Scientific American, This American Life, The Today Show, The Atlantic, and other major media outlets. She discusses her work in a recent TEDx talk.