Introduction: Loneliness is a common, emotionally distressing experience and is associated with adverse physical and mental health and an unhealthy lifestyle. Nevertheless, little is known about the prevalence of loneliness in different age groups in Switzerland. Furthermore, the existing evidence about age and gender as potential effect modifiers of the associations between loneliness, physical and mental health and lifestyle characteristics warrants further investigation. Thus, the aim of the study was to examine the prevalence of loneliness among adults in Switzerland and to assess the associations of loneliness with several physical and mental health and behavioral factors, as well as to assess the modifying effect of sex and age.
Methods: Data from 20,007 participants of the cross-sectional population-based Swiss Health Survey 2012 (SHS) were analyzed. Logistic regression analyses were used to assess associations of loneliness with physical and mental health or lifestyle characteristics (e.g. diabetes, depression, physical activity). Wald tests were used to test for interactions.
Results: Loneliness was distributed in a slight U-shaped form from 15 to 75+ year olds, with 64.1% of participants who had never felt lonely. Lonely individuals were more often affected by physical and mental health problems, such as self-reported chronic diseases (Odds ratio [OR] 1.41, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.30-1.54), high cholesterol levels (OR 1.31, 95% CI 1.18-1.45), diabetes (OR 1.40, 95% CI 1.16-1.67), moderate and high psychological distress (OR 3.74, 95% CI 3.37-4.16), depression (OR 2.78, 95% CI 2.22-3.48) and impaired self-perceived health (OR 1.94, 95% CI 1.74-2.16). Loneliness was significantly associated with most lifestyle factors (e.g. smoking; OR 1.13, 95% 1.05-1.23). Age, but not sex, moderated loneliness' association with several variables.
Conclusion: Loneliness is associated with poorer physical and mental health and unhealthy lifestyle, modified by age, but not by sex. Our findings illustrate the importance of considering loneliness for physical and mental health and lifestyle factors, not only in older and younger, but also in middle-aged adults. Longitudinal studies are needed in Switzerland to elucidate the causal relationships of these associations.