so THE CIGNA U.S. LONELINESS INDEX ‘Survey of 20,000 Americans Examining Behaviors Driving Loneliness in the United States’ reveals a side of us that we may be reluctant to acknowledge.
In a May 2018 report, the global health service (insurance) company described how, when it partnered with Ipsos (a research company) to conduct an online survey using the UCLA Loneliness Scale, it found that MOST AMERICANS WERE CONSIDERED LONELY!
The introduction explained that Cigna regularly undertakes projects to evaluate specific aspects of health and wellbeing, with the intent “to identify any gaps in the health care system, and address emerging issues that affect the people we serve”.
Loneliness was studied because it is a condition commonly shared by persons with mental health issues, “a consistent part of the pathology”. The report references a British publication which states that, “mental illness is now a leading cause of both sickness absence and incapacity benefits in most high-income countries”, with attendant “rising economic and social costs.” (from Lancet article) One in 6 Americans suffer from a mental health condition, the report says, making loneliness a potentially huge problem.
Being lonely is more dangerous to health than obesity Cigna claims, with “the same impact as smoking 15 cigarettes a day”. The research on which this statement was based is a 2015 meta-analytic review of the medical literature from 1980 to 2014. A meta-analysis attempts to analyze and collate the findings of other previously performed and published research work, which in this case resulted in the examination of 70 reports. The conclusion of the meta-analysis was that, similar to predictions of the current obesity epidemic 30 years ago, their findings warn of the future increased risk of mortality from loneliness and social isolation. And that these risks to health are “greater than that from obesity”.
The following is an excerpt from the free downloaded PDF:
“The study revealed:
The total average loneliness score for Americans, which could range from 20-80, was 44. A score of 43 and above was rated as LONELY in the Cigna survey, thus a higher score suggested a greater degree of loneliness and possibly social isolation. Roughly 54% of the national American population was considered to be lonely through this survey.
In those who were lonelier, compared with those who were less lonely, certain traits emerged. The lonely had less in-person interactions. They thought their social skills /relationship statuses were not good, felt their overall and physical and mental health was fair to poor, and that their life had less balance, for example, when considering sleep (not having enough), work (not having the right amount).
Among generations there were differences. The total average loneliness scores were: Gen Z (ages 18-22) 48.3; Millennials (ages 23-37) 45.3; Gen X (ages 38-51) 45.1, Boomers (ages 52-71) 42.4, Greatest (ages 72+) 38.6.
There were other specific survey details that suggest the origins of loneliness, including:
Social media use was shown NOT to be a predictor of loneliness, however those who never used it (41.7) or were light users (42.6) were slightly less lonely than moderate (44.3) and heavy (44.5) users. Those who reported very heavy use were in the middle of the two groups. But all groups were in a fairly close range. It is possible that people who use social media to reach out to others may differ from those who passively check it. (NPR).
There were geographic regional differences. Persons living in the Houston TX and Austin TX areas were loneliest (60% are considered to be lonely compared with 54% of the national population); younger and single people were lonelier than older and married. Those in Tampa FL were less likely (41%) to be lonely compared with the national population. Los Angeles CA, Orlando FL, Nashville TN, Phoenix AZ, Hartford CT, Baltimore MD, Denver CO, San Diego CA, and Memphis TN metropolitan areas were close to the national average. In each area, certain groups showed higher loneliness scores, often the young (18-34 years) and those with lower incomes (<$75,000 annually), and sometimes the unmarried.
EARNED RUNS COMMENTS:
If you would like to look at the UCLA Loneliness Survey to check out the types of questions asked, follow this link. Those already aware of the results most likely won’t be able to provide responses and score it honestly. I tried! Not wanting to see myself as lonely, I couldn’t help fudging answers in my favor. Of course, I scored well below 43.
However, the attempt alerted me to that fact that social media might have influenced my perceptions. Possibly, awareness of what others post about doing allowed comparisons with my own situation that otherwise might not ever have been made. I’m a light user, but still am affected. Deeper reflection, while trying to avoid earning the ‘lonely’ label, forced me to recognize (and appreciate) the strong social connections that do exist in my life. And resolve to nourish them and create others.
That being said, since Earned Runs is concerned with exercise and fitness it was interesting to learn that the survey showed spending too much time exercising pushed people toward loneliness. And not enough time, but to a lesser extent
For many runners, their sport is their best “in-person” connection! They run in crews, clubs, and small packs. They involve their families and friends in races and race trips, and often reach out and invite others to join them. For others, running allows needed down time to be introspective and meditative; it helps their relationships. They are alone but not lonely when running.
But there’s a risk of spending too much time running, exercising, and training alone, such that quality, unscheduled time spent relaxing and forming deeper relationships with others is minimal.
I came to this realization about 2 years ago, that too much exercise time, especially JUST RUNNING, left me alone a lot. It was then that I decided to explore activities that involved others and that consumed less alone time. It led to the 2017 change in the Earned Runs’ blog ‘sign-off’ from “RUN HAPPY”, to “RUN & MOVE HAPPY” to allow for all different types of sport and fitness activities, including epic adventures, that could be enjoyed in the company of others.
After reading about this survey and exploring information on the health risks of loneliness, it seems like my new direction fitness plan was a good but insufficient beginning; much more effort must be made to connect with others “in-person”. It’s scary to think that many Americans could be headed toward social isolation. Especially younger adults and students. And me.
The results of the Cigna survey generated a good deal of self-examination. What unhealthy behaviors do I have that I can change now? How might I help lessen lonely feelings in others? And provided a caution to avoid assuming that people would not welcome attempts to be friendly.
RUN & MOVE HAPPY!
The article on loneliness as a risk factor for mortality is not extensively discussed here, but it supports scientific work that is warning of the dangers.(Click on the link "Download PDF" to access the entire article). Other research (only studying men) reveals the flip side, that strong social relationships contribute significantly to happiness.
The Earned Runs SUMMER “BUDDY-UP” CHALLENGE V was introduced in a blog post Wednesday May 9, 2018 in response to these findings. Check it out.
(Click on the "Download PDF" to read the entire article)
BRIDGE TO PHYSICAL SELF
Running, walking, and fitness activities enable us to experience our physical selves in a world mostly accessed through use of fingers on a mobile device.
EARNED RUNS is edited and authored by me, runner and founder. I began participating in road races before 5Ks were common. I've been a dietitian, practiced and taught clinical pathology, and been involved with research that utilized pathology. I am fascinated with understanding the origins of disease as well as health.
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