UNDATED -- Prolonged loneliness is starting to become a recognized public health risk and a University of Minnesota study looks at who, between rural and metro residents, may be more affected.

The study, done by the U's School of Public Health takes a look at 2,439 adults aged 65 and older. People from large cities, small towns and very rural areas were all included.

Residents in those areas reported on their level of social support, number of social relationships and the UCLA Loneliness Scale to measure levels of loneliness. One finding shows, while rural residents were more likely than metro ones to have more than 20 friends or family, they were also more likely to feel alone.

Assistant Professor Carrie Henning-Smith led the study.  She says a big part of why rural residents may feel more alone, is infrastructure based.

"Transportation can be more challenging, accessing technology like broadband internet is more challenging. So those are reasons as to why - even though rural residents have more people in their lives - it may be more challenging for them to connect with one another."

The study found over a quarter of small-city residents and around 20 percent of both metro and rural residents said they only socialized once a month at most. Henning-Smith says this is something that needs to be worked on.

"[We need to] find ways to facilitate socializing, at least once a month or more. We know it's good for health, we know it matters for quality of life, so this is a place where we can act."

In a study done by the AARP, over 42-million Americans over the age of 45 suffer from chronic loneliness. Several studies done by both universities and government organizations point to loneliness as being as dangerous as smoking or obesity.

Henning-Smith says the solution to chronic loneliness is simple; make sure to interact more with people. Some ways to handle this may include more community programming, social support groups or volunteer opportunities.

Here in the St. Cloud Metro, there are several ways to get out, volunteer and interact with others.

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