CLEVELAND, Ohio — Women generally have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) as they age. Scientists say this is because declining estrogen levels impact a woman’s ability to regular vascular function. Now, a new study reveals another risk factor for increasing heart trouble as people age — eating alone. Researchers with The North American Menopause Society say eating in isolation contributes to both physical and mental risk factors that can harm the heart.
Although many studies have examined the link between a healthy diet and a healthy heart, study authors say few have actually looked at the importance of eating with another person. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, more and more people worldwide are eating alone on a regular basis. Researchers say the main reason for this is the rise in single-person households, either through the death of a loved one or because of public safety protocols like social distancing and quarantining.
Additionally, food delivery services are making it extremely easy for people to avoid the public while still getting their meals.
Unfortunately, previous studies show that eating alone often has a connection to higher risks for abdominal obesity and high blood pressure. Researchers note people generally eat faster when they’re alone, which leads to a higher body mass index, a larger waistline, and higher blood pressure and blood lipid levels. All of these problems increase a person’s risk for both metabolic syndrome and heart disease.
Moreover, prior studies have found that eating alone — and isolation in general — can affect a person’s mental health and contribute to depression. Declining mental health also appears to increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, the number one cause of death worldwide.
Greater risks for older women
In a study of 600 menopausal women over the age of 65, researchers compared the health and nutritional intake between people eating alone and those eating with others.
Results show older women eating alone had lower intakes of energy, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, sodium, and potassium in comparison to those eating with at least one other person. Researchers also discovered that older women who eat alone are 2.58 times more likely to experience angina — a type of chest pain due to less blood flow to the heart.
“This study shows that older women who eat alone are more likely to have symptomatic heart disease. They are also more likely to be widowed and to have lower incomes and poorer nutritional intake. These results are not surprising given that lower socioeconomic status and social isolation contribute to lower quality of life, greater rates of depression, and poorer health. Given that women live longer than men, finding ways for older women who are socially isolated to engage and create meaningful social ties may not only improve their nutrition but also their overall health while simultaneously reducing healthcare costs,” says NAMS medical director Dr. Stephanie Faubion in a media release.
The finding appear in the journal Menopause.