America’s loneliness epidemic
Loneliness is at epidemic levels in the U.S., and could rank alongside smoking and obesity as a major threat to public health, new research suggests. In a survey of 20,000 adults conducted by Ipsos for the health insurer Cigna, nearly 50 percent said they sometimes or always felt alone or left out, CBSNews.com reported. Forty-three percent said their relationships weren’t meaningful, and 27 percent said they rarely or never felt understood. While loneliness is often associated with aging, the survey found that the worst affected were in fact young Americans between ages 18 and 22. Social media use—which some research has suggested can be isolating—had no obvious impact on perceived isolation. “I could have a thousand or 10,000 friends on Facebook,” says Cigna chief medical officer Douglas Nemecek, “but it’s the meaningful in-person relationships that I have with other people that actually keep me from becoming lonely.” Previous research has shown that loneliness is associated with many physical problems, including inflammation, a weakened immune system, heart disease, and mental decline. One 2010 study found that being lonely has the same effect on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Nemecek said the study’s findings regarding young people were particularly alarming. “It’s something that we, as a society, need to explore,” he says.