Research Spotlights August 2017

Research Spotlights August 2017

Loneliness but not isolation can make people feel worse when sick

Loneliness and social isolation have been found to be risk factors for poor health outcomes, yet less is understood about the impact of these risk factors on patient reported outcomes such as illness-related pain or fatigue. This study, funded by NCCIH, NIAID, and NHLBI, sought to understand how both loneliness and social isolation separately may influence self-reported cold symptoms.

More than 200 healthy adults were exposed to a common cold virus after reporting on several psychosocial measures such as self-reported experience of loneliness, depressive affect, and social isolation, measured by size and diversity of one’s social network. Participants were kept in isolation for five days, and were asked to report their cold symptoms daily. Of the 200 exposed only 160 individuals were infected with the virus.

Lonely participants were no more likely to become infected than less lonely participants. However, among those infected, loneliness predicted reporting more severe cold symptoms. This was true regardless of one’s actual social isolation, age, sex, education, income, BMI, season, and depressive affect. These results suggest “lonelier people feel worse when they are sick then less lonely people” even when they have larger or more diverse social networks. Understanding the differential impact of loneliness vs. social isolation and the mechanisms by which loneliness influences perceived severity of symptoms are important directions for future research that could aid practitioners in interpreting and managing illness symptoms in their patients.

Citation:
LeRoy AS, Murdock KW, Jaremka LM, Loya A, Fagundes CP. 2017. Loneliness predicts self-reported cold symptoms after a viral challenge. Health Psychol 36(5): 512-20.

Smartphone data reveals global variation in physical activity equality

The level of physical activity inequality within a country is a better predictor of obesity prevalence than the average volume of physical activity (i.e., steps/day) according to a new study funded by NIBIB and NICHD.

The largest of its kind, the study used accelerometer data from smartphones to assess the physical activity of over 700,000 individuals across 111 countries to quantify disparities in physical activity levels globally and understand the relationship of these disparities with obesity.

Results indicate that higher levels of physical activity inequality are associated with higher obesity levels. This inequality is especially true for females for whom obesity prevalence increases more rapidly as activity decreases. Higher levels of walkability in cities was associated with lower activity inequality. Even among cities geographically close together, inequality is lowest among the highest walkable cities suggesting location and SES may have less influence on obesity than walkability. This study presents a new way of measuring population activity and helps in understanding activity disparities among subpopulations and regions that could benefit from targeted policies and interventions that increase physical activity and improve health.

Citation:
Althoff T, Sonic R, Hicks JL, King AC, Depp SL, Lesioned J. 2017. Large-scale physical activity data reveal worldwide activity inequality. Nature. 547(7663):1-4.

HIV/AIDS-related behavioral and social sciences research associated with geographical proximity to the epidemic

HIV/AIDS morality rates and lower GDP per capita are associated with an increased number of behavioral and social sciences-related studies, according to a new study by grantees funded by NIGMS and OBSSR.

The study conducted a review of all HIV and AIDS-related academic papers indexed in Scopus and published between 1985 and 2012. Textual analysis was used to track frequency of word appearance and co-appearance within the abstracts of the more than 200,000 articles included in the study. This analysis method was also used to show trends of publications, countries, and specific contributions of behavioral and social sciences topics such as social support and stigma, in HIV/AIDS research.

The results show a larger focus on behavioral and social science (BSS) topics was seen in countries where HIV/AIDS had higher mortality rates—the largest percentage of BSS related research was seen in Sub-Saharan Africa (60%) compared to Japan (15%) with the lowest percentage, and the U.S. (35%) in the middle. Results also suggest that a lower GDP was associated with higher percentages of BSS research, reflecting that wealthier countries tend to publish on more biomedical topics. These differences indicate that scientists’ approach to study a disease can partially reflect societal demand and the country’s resources.

Citation:
Lakeh AB, Ghaffarzadegan N. 2017. Global trends and regional variations in studies of HIV/AIDS. Sci Rep 7(4170):1-7.

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