Loneliness in America is a Public Health Problem

ANSWERING THE KENNEDYS CALL

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As part of our series on community-building I am reporting on what happens to Americans as a result of the breakdown of community, which Robert Putnam first documented in his best-seller, “Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community.”

This MarketWatch article forwards a report by Cigna Health on the damage done to individuals by living in a society that encourages little face-to-face human contacts in our high-stress, and very unequal society:

“ A recent Cigna survey of 20,000 U.S. adults found that nearly half of people suffer from feelings of loneliness. The evaluation of loneliness was measured by an often-used score of 43 or higher on the University of California, Los Angeles “Loneliness Scale,” a 20-item questionnaire developed to measure feelings of loneliness and social isolation. Loneliness is both a health issue and a social issue and, often, subjective.

“We view a person’s physical, mental and social health as being entirely connected,” David Cordani, president and chief executive officer of Cigna, said in a statement. “We’re seeing a lack of human connection, which ultimately leads to a lack of vitality,” he said, “or a disconnect between mind and body.”

Why such a disconnect of Americans? “Mandatory overtime and involuntary long hours are a growing problem particularly for some segments of the labor force,” according to “Overworked America,” a 2016 report from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a left-leaning research center. Workers who are not paid overtime are more than twice as likely to report working more than 40 hours a week,” it said.

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European Union members, such as The Netherlands and Denmark, have lower workweek hours with universal healthcare, tuition-free colleges and report much fewer health problems.

The toll of loneliness has even affected our youngest generation—the Gen X’ers. “Generation X-ers are struggling to keep up with a loss of wealth and income since the Great Recession,” says the study, “and have less time to spend with family. As wages play catchup with inflation, many people work overtime or two jobs to make ends meet.”” The U.S. is one of the few countries in the industrialized world that does not require employers to offer paid parental leave.”

“More people live (and eat) alone. More than half of all meals (57 percent) are eaten alone, a 2014 study by market researcher NPD Group concluded. And 34 percent of Americans spend dinner time alone. Nearly 30 percent of households in the U.S. are comprised of one person. It’s the second most common household type after married couples without children.”

How can we decrease our loneliness (and health) problem? Exercise and good sleep habits are a start. But much more is needed, given the fact that America is the only developed country without universal health care, paid parental leave to raise healthier children, and an educational system that heavily in debts college students. It requires a society and government willing to care for all citizens.

The current state of loneliness is not sustainable. It is why Americans’ health outcomes are measurably worse than in other developed countries; with higher infant mortality, less longevity, an intractable Opioid/drug epidemic, and rampant gun violence, for starters.

There is no reason why Americans can’t create better functioning communities, create a sense that we are all in this together and care more for each other, rather than remain divided among races and political ideologies.

We do know how to combat loneliness. Be willing to reach out to others when it’s an inconvenience, even with a smile.

Harlan Green © 2018

Follow Harlan Green on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarlanGreen

About populareconomicsblog

Harlan Green is editor/publisher of PopularEconomics.com, and content provider of 3 weekly columns to various blogs--Popular Economics Weekly and The Huffington Post
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