If your dining company is more likely to be a smartphone than a living, breathing human, you could be on the path to health woes that go well beyond heartburn. A paper published in Obesity Research & Clinical Practice in October 2017 suggests that the increasingly common practice of trading in family meals for less formal, more sporadic solo eating could raise the risk of developing maladies like heart disease and diabetes.
Looking at the dining habits of 7,725 adults, study investigators found that people who ate alone at least twice daily were more likely to have metabolic syndrome—a cluster of disease risk factors that include high blood sugar and elevated blood pressure—compared with their social-dining peers. The association was particularly strong for men, who were 45% more likely to have abdominal obesity and 64% more likely to have metabolic syndrome if meals were frequently a solitary practice.
Combining poor food choices (more fast food, distracted eating, irregular dining) with higher stress and loneliness may contribute to the health pitfalls of feasting alone. Becoming more of an eating extrovert—whether it’s by sharing a midday meal with co-workers or making it home for a sit-down family repast in the evening—looks like a good way to keep the doctor at bay, while making mealtimes fun again in the process.