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Jan 06, 2016 05:31 AM EST

Social networks greatly influence the health in early and late adulthood, study says

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Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that social relationships can interfere with physical well being by increasing the risk for abdominal obesity, inflammation and high blood pressure, as well as other long-term health issues, Science World Report reports.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

"Based on these findings, it should be as important to encourage adolescents and young adults to build broad social relationships and social skills for interacting with others as it is to eat healthy and be physically active," said Kathleen Mullan Harris, James Haar Distinguished Professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and faculty fellow at the Carolina Population Center (CPC), in a news release. 

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from four nationally representative surveys of the U.S. population that covered the lifespan from adolescence to old age.

The researchers focused on social support, social integration and social strain.

"We studied the interplay between social relationships, behavioral factors and physiological dysregulation that, over time, lead to chronic diseases of aging-cancer being a prominent example," said Yang Claire Yang, a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, CPC fellow and a member of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

"Our analysis makes it clear that doctors, clinicians, and other health workers should redouble their efforts to help the public understand how important strong social bonds are throughout the course of all of our lives."

The study showed that individuals who were socially isolated during adolescence were at a higher risk of inflammation, as compared to individuals who were easily integrated into society at a young age.

"The relationship between health and the degree to which people are integrated in large social networks is strongest at the beginning and at the end of life, and not so important in middle adulthood, when the quality, not the quantity, of social relationships matters," Harris said, according to Medical Xpress.

The researchers concluded that it was not the number of social connections, but the impact these connections made on social support or strain that had an impact on health.

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