Living Alone Can Be a Big Health Risk, Especially When It Comes to Diet

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Shainhouse_071115A recent study revealed that living alone could result in a poorer diet, especially for men, compared to when cohabitating with others.

Up to 30% of Americans are living on their own and some research studies have linked a solitary lifestyle to many poor health outcomes. Although research has been inconsistent in terms of dietary patterns and behaviors, there have been studies that have linked living alone with higher risks of several adverse effects, such as diabetes, heart disease, functional impairment, and poor mental health due to social isolation. Living alone has also been linked to an increase risk of an earlier death.

Such negative effects are likely a result of financial and social constraints as well as lifestyle and environmental factors. Understanding people’s behaviors and health implications as a result may pave the way for improving access to programming and services to individuals living alone in order to reduce these risks.

Researchers from the Queensland University of Technology reviewed current literature in order to gain a better understanding of nutrition and dietary habits of individuals living alone versus cohabiting with others. They further investigated health implications as a result of solitary living, the nutritional conditions that arose, and the associated treatments.

The final review included 41 papers that met all their inclusion criteria. When evaluating food group intakes, researchers discovered the following:

  • Men and women living alone had lower intakes of fruits and vegetables, but men, specifically, were less likely to meet their daily intake recommendations of fruits and vegetables
  • Living alone resulted in a lower intake of fish
  • Solitary living increased the likelihood of having meat as one’s main meal and less variation when it came to protein options
  • Women were less likely to meet their daily recommendations of meat and alternatives
  • There were no conclusive results for the other food groups

Findings for six small studies evaluating specific nutrient intakes revealed that there were no differences between individuals living alone or among others. However, three larger studies found that there were differences between calorie intakes as well as the amount of protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, and minerals, consumed, whereas two studies showed inconclusive results. Four studies that evaluated the overall nutrient and food intake determined that living alone was associated with poor food choices and a low quality diet.

For the most part, living alone usually meant that individuals had unhealthy dietary patterns, especially for men. One study found that women were more likely to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their meals and limit their intake of fat. Overall, individuals living alone were less likely to purchase healthy foods. However, elderly adults were less likely to purchase soda or other beverages as well as any type of convenience food. Further, individuals living alone were less likely to have a diversified diet compared to those living among others.

“The research suggests living alone may represent a barrier to healthy eating that is related to the cultural and social roles of food and cooking. For example, a lack of motivation and enjoyment in cooking and/or eating alone often led to people preparing simple or ready-made meals lacking key nutrients,” stated study author Dr. Katherine Hanna. Further, “[…] a person who is bereaved or divorced may have previously relied on their partner for food preparation and lack the sufficient cooking skills to make healthy meals.”

Perhaps communities can provide cooking classes, which would reduce social isolation and improve psychological wellbeing. Further, these classes would provide an opportunity to educate individuals on the importance of healthy eating and the skills to support their newly acquired knowledge.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Hanna, K.L., “Relationship between living alone and food and nutrient intake,” Nutrition Reviews 2015; 73(9): 594, doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuv024.
Queensland University of Technology, “Living alone can dent healthy diets,” ScienceDaily web site, November 6, 2015; www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/11/151103090932.htm.


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Leah Shainhouse, R.D.

About the Author, Browse Leah's Articles

Leah Shainhouse is a Registered Dietitian with the College of Dietitians of Ontario and a member of the Dietitians of Canada. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science, Honors, in Nutritional Sciences from the University of British Columbia and went on to complete her dietetic training and Master of Science degree in Human Nutrition at McGill University. Leah has a strong desire to help shape the lives of individuals through a healthy lifestyle. She enjoys working with people to help... Read Full Bio »