WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- A new study, sponsored by Cigna, found that loneliness affects most Americans, which just might be America’s next big public health issue.
- This time it isn’t the oldest generation who is most at risk, but the youngest.
- While loneliness may be a risk factor for health issues, the report also reveals that some illnesses may also be a predictor of loneliness.
Health insurer Cigna and market research firm Ipsos conducted the research, which found that people aged 18 to 22 are the most likely to be the loneliest generation. Given the well-researched connections between loneliness and health issues ranging from substance abuse to heart disease, this can be a major threat to public health.
Dr. Doug Nemecek, chief medical officer of behavioral health at Cigna, professes that this is indeed an alarming statistic. He says that it would be a meaningful first step if news of this study can make an impact on communities to affect change.
About 20,100 U.S. adults took the UCLA Loneliness Scale, a 20-question survey which asks people how often they agree with statements such as, “There is no one I can turn to,” and “I feel part of a group of friends.” The loneliness scores are then calculated based on the responses. Scores above 43 were classified as loneliness. Alarmingly, the average score was 44, suggesting that loneliness is indeed reaching “epidemic levels” in the U.S.
Almost half of the study group stated they sometimes or always feel alone or left out, 43% said they sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful, and only 53% said they have meaningful in-person interactions on a daily basis.
Adults between ages 18 and 22, or Generation Z, were observed to be the loneliest generation, with an average loneliness score of 48.3. More than half identified with 10 of 11 survey prompts associated with loneliness. Although rampant social media use is easy to blame, it was found that the loneliness scores of the most digitally active respondents weren’t very different from others, suggesting other causes. The study didn’t look at the causes, however.
Nemecek states, “It’s something that we, as a society, need to explore to understand how we can address it.”
Meanwhile, adults older than 72 were the least likely to be lonely, with an average loneliness score of 38.6, far lower than any other age group.
As explained by Nemecek, “When a person has a chronic illness or is in poor health, it can limit their ability to get out and interact with others. Also, when someone is lonely, it can impact how they take care of themselves, how they eat, manage their medicines and stay active, which can all lead to worse health outcomes.”
At the same time, good health may keep loneliness at bay. Activities and habits such as staying engaged in one’s community, face-to-face interactions with family and friends, sufficient sleep, regular exercise, and work-life balance were associated with lower loneliness scores.