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Almost half of the Belgians feels lonely

Research led by Ghent University's Lieven Annemans has shown that no less than 46 percent of the Belgians feels lonely, either permanently or at times. Adults aged between 20 and 50 are particularly vulnerable.

The research was conducted by life insurance group NN and Ghent university (UGent), and involved 3,770 Belgians as health economist Lieven Annemans tried to establish a type of 'national happiness barometer'.

The percentage of Belgians who feel "sometimes or permanently lonely" is highest in the category between 20 and 34 years of age: 54.5 percent. It is not much lower for those aged between 35 and 50, set at 53 percent in the large-scale poll. Contrary to what some may expect, older people are scoring a lot better, with the percentage for 70+ people dropping to 28.3 percent. The research did not involve those younger than 20. 

Feeling unhappy in your relation, is as big a contributive factor as having no partner at all

The crucial factor is a relationship, whether this involves a partner or a good friend with whom you have a strong bond. "This is what makes the difference", says Annemans. However, there is a big 'but': "If you are unhappy in your relation, this will also add to feeling lonely. In fact, an unhappy relation is as big a contributing factor as having no partner." Living without a partner, multiplies the risk of becoming lonely by a factor of 3.6. For a bad relationship, this is 3.7. 

Other factors triggering loneliness are low income and a bad health. Positive factors include taking care of others, having good friends and being engaged in a project or taking on social activities.   

Annemans puts the figure for seniors into perspective: "It's true they are less often lonely then younger people, but when they do feel lonely, this has a much bigger impact in their lives." 

There may be fewer old people feeling lonely, but when they are lonely, this has a much bigger impact on their life