Loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.


any different sources informed my characterization of the word loneliness.

To keep it concise here I will focus on the two loneliness sources that had the greater impact, functioning as lighthouses for my research: The Cigna report and the book Loneliness, Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection.  

In February 2018, Cigna partnered with Ipsos to better understand the state of loneliness in America. Using questions based on UCLA’s Loneliness Scale - a frequently referenced and acknowledged academic measure used to gauge loneliness - the Cigna Loneliness Index survey was created to focus the national conversation on the epidemic.

The survey was fielded among more than 20,000 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. 

The formula behind the index involves deriving a score for each respondent based on their answers to a series of twenty statements and from there calculating a total mean score for everyone who completed the survey to obtain a national score. The index stipulates that the higher the score, the lonelier people are. Possible loneliness scores range from 20 to 80, with the total average national loneliness score in America reaching 44. Total average loneliness scores were also analyzed across different demographic groups of interest to gauge which populations are most susceptible to experiencing feelings of loneliness.

The study is sixty pages long covering a wide range of topics and comparing data for different states. For the sake of keeping this readable, I will focus here on the key findings that informed somehow my process. Click here to access the entire study. 

Key Insights.

Loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and is more dangerous than obseity.

Loneliness was recently updated to an epidemic. An estimated $6.7 billion in annual federal spending is attributable to social isolation. Poor social relationships were associated with a 29 percent increase in risk of coronary heart disease and a 32 percent rise in the risk of stroke, studies have shown. (Source: HRSA - Health Resources and Services Administration).

Younger generations are lonelier. 
Source: Cigma loneliness report 2018.

This puts to rest the idea the loneliness is experiences by elderly people in aging countries. The very same generations relying heavily on social media tools is the one suffering the most. The fact this is also the most tech-savvy slice of the population reinforced the notion that there an opportunity for an App/assistant  as long as it appeals to the younger generations. This informed the very unique UI design choices for the App.  

Loneliness will typically decrease as in-person interaction increases.
Source: Cigma loneliness report 2018.
Source: Cigma loneliness report 2018.

When looking at how loneliness scores vary across those with different levels of in-person interaction, results show that those who have daily in-person interactions have the lowest total average loneliness score (39.6), while the few who report never interacting with others have an average loneliness score that is 20 points higher (59.6). This trend illustrates that loneliness will typically decrease as in-person interaction increases. The fact daily in-person interactions can have such a huge impact on helping people feel less lonely go hand to hand with my heuristic of walking the dog conversations. Working mainly from home, these sometimes meaningless short conversations usually starting with "how old is your dog?" are heart-warming and can really brighten a shitty day. This informed the idea that the assistant could specialize on first-acquaintance, casual, short encounters. 

Students lead the loneliness index followed close by the unemployed. 
Source: Cigma loneliness report 2018

This put to rest the idea loneliness is experienced by elderly people in aging population zones. The study found the very same generations relying heavily on social media outlets are the one suffering the most with the loneliness epidemic. It is also a direct hit to the notion that dating apps are somehow tackling the loneliness epidemic. They aren't. Tinder affirms over half of its user base is composed of people aged between 18-24 years, the very same generation suffering the most with loneliness. (Source: https://www.businessofapps.com/data/tinder-statistics/). When it comes to Apps and assistants tackling the loneliness epidemic we are left under-serviced.

Social Media use is not a predictor of loneliness, hence can’t be the solution for it. There were no correlation found between social media use and an increase of a decrease of the feeling of loneliness. 
Source: Cigma loneliness report 2018

People looking at their friends on social media constantly report depression and anxiety.  Common sensations people reported include feeling that others are having fun without them, that they are not smart enough, as interesting as, or as successful as others.This again leaves the loneliness epidemic untouched by the currently availably social media outlets.  

The pain of social isolation is a defense mechanism. 

It is not inherently bad to feel lonely. This feeling incentivize people to gather, which contributed to our survival as a species. Social pain has a similar mechanism as physical pain, in the sense it protects the individuo from the dangers of isolation and the advantages of maintain proximity. (Source: Loneliness, Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection)

The feeling of loneliness can also emerge on people that are not physically isolated. 

Some people will report being lonely for feeling disconnected or “not-belonging” to the group, even when participating on a group.The assistant has to do better than create random encounter opportunities. The ideal scenario is one where both users feel the have something in common with each other. (Source: Loneliness, Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection)

Common examples of social mechanisms that combat loneliness are Rotary Clubs and religious congregations.

The very same generations suffering the most with the issue are the ones not in the habit of congregating in churches or carrying Rotary club cards on their wallets. The social mechanisms in place to tackle the epidemic are failing to target the new generations. (Source: Loneliness, Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection)