America’s No. 1 Health Problem is Not What You Expect
Wellness programs fall short when they fail to address a leading health problem.
Many organizations are interested in the wellness and wellbeing of their people. They promote wellness programs that encourage exercise and mindfulness. Few, however, address the No. 1 health problem.
In a 2016 interview with Politico, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said the most common illness today isn’t heart disease. It isn’t diabetes. It isn’t cancer.
It’s loneliness and social isolation.
“We underestimate how prevalent isolation is,” Murthy said. “We underestimate the impact it has on our health. In fact, we know that social isolation—science tells us, in fact—that social isolation is linked to shorter lives, to cognitive decline, to increased rates of cardiovascular disease, as well as other healthcare concerns.”
The media is catching on. Articles are appearing with greater frequency in the press about rising loneliness. In April 2017, Atlantic featured an interview with loneliness expert John Cacioppo from the University of Chicago in an article titled “How Loneliness Begets Loneliness.” The previous month in the Boston Globe, Billy Baker wrote a thoughtful, and at times humorous, article titled, “The biggest threat facing middle aged men isn’t smoking or obesity. It’s loneliness.”
In recent years we’ve seen articles on loneliness in many media outlets including:
- “Loneliness May Warp Our Genes and Immune Systems” from NPR
- “How Social Isolation is Killing Us” from The New York Times
- “Research: Loneliness Increases Risk of Death” from CNN
- “Loneliness May Be Bad for Your Heart” from The New York Times
- “Social Media, Loneliness and Anxiety in Young People” from Psychology Today
- “The Lethality of Loneliness” from The New Republic
- “How Loneliness Wears on the Body” from Atlantic
The UK is struggling with rising loneliness too. Concerned organizations came together to establish The Campaign to End Loneliness as a means to combat the problem.
If organizations want to improve the wellness and wellbeing of their people, then they should promote cultures of connection in addition to promoting the traditional approaches of exercise and mindfulness.
Soon we will be launching a new Connection Culture Inventory (CCI) to help organizations assess their subcultures. If you are interested in participating in the CCI’s free trial, which allows us to gather sufficient responses to develop robust mean averages, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can schedule a call to discuss.
Everyone has an important part to play in reducing today’s epidemic of loneliness. If you have a boss or coworkers who are irritable and difficult to reason with, it may be because they are lonely. Consider whether your family members and friends may also be struggling with loneliness.
If you think loneliness may be an issue, ask the person you’re concerned about to join you for a meal or coffee. Find out how they’re doing. Get them talking and listen closely to what they’re saying. Let them know you care. Consider inviting them to a social event, to join you in volunteering to serve your community, or to participate in a community-based organization such as a faith community or social sector organization. As one of my mentors Frances Hesselbein says, “to serve is to live.” It’s so true.
You can also help combat rising loneliness by encouraging your family, friends and coworkers to access the free 100 Ways to Connect ebook and our semi-monthly “Connect to Thrive” newsletter, which provides ways to connect, new scientific research on connection and inspiring stories about intentional connectors.
Together we can reach out to connect with the people in our midst who suffer from a lack of connection, and by doing so we will be helping them boost their happiness, health and productivity.