Violence linked to social isolation, hypervigilance and chronic health problems, new studies show

Exposure to violence can negatively impact a person’s physical and psychosocial health, according to two new studies co-authored by University of Chicago Medicine social epidemiologist Elizabeth L. Tung, MD.

The studies were based on in-person surveys of more than 500 adults living in Chicago neighborhoods with high rates of violent crime, and in predominantly racial and ethnic minority groups. The results were published Oct. 7 in the October issue of the policy journal, Health Affairs.

The first report, “Social Isolation, Loneliness, and Violence Exposure in Urban Adults,” found that social isolation and loneliness were associated with limited physical activity, not taking medication properly, poor nutrition, binge drinking and smoking.

The data showed that the more violence a person experienced in their own community, the lonelier they were likely to be. The highest loneliness was found among people who were exposed to community violence and screened positive for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The study’s results are particularly troublesome for older people who live in violent neighborhoods, who are more prone to loneliness and might already have chronic health issues like diabetes, obesity or heart disease, Tung said. Loneliness is a growing health concern, and a key predictor of mortality in the U.S. Seventy-seven percent of the study’s respondents were age 50 and up.

“The association between violence exposure and loneliness is a really interesting one, because there’s such a strong link,” Tung said. “The pervasiveness of violence seems to be more evident now than ever. What does that sense of violence in our culture do more broadly to loneliness?”

Social withdrawal might be a survival strategy in violent neighborhoods, but it’s not a good long-term option, added study co-author Monica E. Peek, MD, an associate professor at the University of Chicago and the associate director of the Chicago Center of Diabetes Translation Research.



Originally reported in The Forefront, 10/7/2019