As the number of single-person households grow in South Korea, new health challenges associated are emerging as businesses fall short of accommodating this societal change. Although many young Koreans claim that they are happy on their own, a recent study revealed that single-person households have a lower quality of life. In addition to mental health challenges associated with loneliness, many people who live alone in Korea report difficulties acquiring healthy food in portions small enough for one person, leading to negative health outcomes.
Although honbap, or solo dining, is becoming more common in Korea, just a few years ago, having a meal by oneself was considered social suicide. While the taboo is becoming less common and various policies are being put in place to support single people, many restaurants and grocery stores have not yet made the transition to better accommodate solo diners.
With honbap becoming a trend in Korea in recent years, it is possible that the health of those living alone will improve as businesses cater to these consumers. Case in point, a study conducted in Japan showed that living alone does not automatically lead to worse health outcomes. Better nutritional intake of Japanese single-person households can be attributed to Japanese convenience stores offering individually-packaged items and websites providing tips on single living. Similarly, dining alone is not stigmatized in Japan as it is in South Korea.
But if health outcomes do not improve for single-person households in the near future, South Korean researchers have suggested establishing a medical plan customized for this community.
This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.
Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Kayla Harris, David Lee, Sarah Marshall, and Mai Anna Pressley. Picture from the flickr account of the Oregon Department of Agriculture