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Loneliness Is A Bigger Health Risk Than Obesity And As Harmful As Smoking, Study Claims

May 05, 2018 07:05 AM EDT
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Loneliness is becoming an epidemic in the United States, a new study shows. Researchers discovered an alarming number of people suffer from loneliness, especially Generation Z and millennials.
(Photo : Yohan Bonnet | AFP | Getty Images)

Loneliness is tough, but a recent study shows it's becoming a major problem as it reaches epidemic levels in the United States.

It turns out more Americans are lonelier than ever, especially Generation Z and millennials.

The development is alarming since, as Cigna referenced in the report, a previous study found that loneliness and social isolation has a similar impact on one's mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day does. This makes it more dangerous than obesity in the United States.

The Study

Global health service company Cigna partnered with market research firm Ipsos in conducting a national survey that explored the impact of loneliness in the United States.

According to a report from Cigna, the team measured loneliness as a score of 43 or higher on the UCLA Loneliness Scale. The 20-item questionnaire was designed to assess loneliness and social isolation. It's an accepted academic tool for measuring loneliness.

The online survey included data from over 20,000 adults in the United States ages 18 and older.

The Findings

The findings show that many Americans are constantly grappling with loneliness with 46 percent of the participants sometimes or always feeling alone and 47 percent sometimes or always feeling left out.

Forty-three percent of Americans sometimes or always feel their relationships are not meaningful, while an equal chunk feel isolated from other people.

In relation to this, 27 percent rarely or never feel understood by people. Twenty percent say they rarely or never feel close to others and 18 percent rarely or never feel like there are people they can communicate with.

Only a little over half, specifically 53 percent, say they are able to have meaningful in-person social interactions every day.

People who live alone are more likely to be lonely, than those who have other people in the house with them. Single parents or guardians, even if they live with children, are more likely to be lonely than either, though, with an average loneliness score of 48.2 percent.

"We view a person's physical, mental and social health as being entirely connected," David M. Cordani, president and CEO of Cigna, explains in a statement. "In analyzing this closely, we're seeing a lack of human connection, which ultimately leads to a lack of vitality — or a disconnect between mind and body. We must change this trend by reframing the conversation to be about 'mental wellness' and 'vitality' to speak to our mental-physical connection. When the mind and body are treated as one, we see powerful results."

Generation Lonely

One of the alarming findings in the recent study is the discovery that younger generations are found to be lonelier than older ones. Generation Z (18-22 years old) and millennials (23-37 years old) are lonelier and reportedly claim to be in worse health than their older counterparts.

Students also have higher loneliness scores than retirees.

The study found that social media is not a good indicator of loneliness as heavy social media users do not have a markedly different loneliness score than those who never use social media.

How To Be Less Lonely

Cigna recommends maintaining a balanced lifestyle to help combat loneliness.

Four important factors are mentioned that are connected to loneliness scores: sleep, time with the family, exercise, and work. Too much or too little of these factors can increase loneliness in individuals, so it's important to devote just the right amount of time to each regularly.

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