Loneliness and Fat Consumption among middle-aged adults | Cacioppo and Williams
Loneliness and Fat Consumption among middle-aged adults | Cacioppo and Williams

What works

Written by a social neuroscientist, the book Loneliness contained this heartfelt graph on page 100. Yes, even I feel the phrase ‘heartfelt graph’ is an oxymoron. But the way that the graphic artist worked over the details here – the way the edges of the butter columns are rounded, the way that the paper is folded back, even the way that the grid lines are rendered makes this two bar graph captivating. I am also intrigued by the mix of digital and hand-rendered – most everything was hand-drawn except the axial numerals and the text labels. I like the mix. I probably would have liked it better if the lettering had also been hand-rendered but I think that’s just me being a bit too precious about hand-rendered images.

The book describes the way that loneliness is a neurological event, one that overlaps with social and psychological parameters to produce a more or less predictable set of occurrences. In this graph, authors Cacioppo and Williams are discussing recent findings that indicate lonely middle-aged adults tend to get more of their calories from fats than non-lonely middle-aged adults. For younger adults, loneliness does not seem to have an effect on either food consumption patterns or exercise patterns.

Socially contented older adults were thirty-seven percent more likely than lonely older adults to have engaged in some type of vigorous physical activity in the previous two weeks. On average they exercised ten minutes more per day than their lonelier counterparts. The same pattern held for diet. Among the young, eating habits did not differ substantially between the lonely and the nonlonely. However, among the older adults, loneliness was associated with the higher percentage of daily calories from fat that we noted earlier (and that is illustrated in Figure 6).

Perhaps because this book is about empathy-inducing loneliness, it is especially nice to see a tenderly hand-drawn graph rather than something far less engaging, the standard excel-produced item. The same numerical information would have been conveyed – and in fact that information was conveyed fairly well in the text itself – but the hand drawn element indicates that the topic is worthy of more than quantitative concern alone.

I am about halfway through this book and so far, I recommend it. Even if you are not interested in loneliness, the book does a good job of demonstrating how diverse research fields can be woven together to examine a topic common to all. The book draws from psychology, sociology, evolutionary biology, and neuroscience to help explain why some people are lonelier than others and what the impact of loneliness can be on the short-term and long-term health and social outcomes for individuals.

What needs work

For the record: I cannot draw or render or do anything good with a pencil besides finding a way to hold my hair out of my face. I tend to be overly appreciative of drawings and people who can draw. My critique here is of myself and others like me who swoon over the hand drawn.

I also wish there might have been a way to get the exercise information included, if not on the same graph, than on a companion graph right next to the butter sticks.

In a public announcement sort of way: folks lonely and nonlonely seem to take much solace in eating. That’s a large amount of fat consumption.


Cacioppo, John T. and William Patrick. (2009 [2008]) Loneliness: Human nature and the Need for Social Connection. New York: W.W. Norton.