U.S. Surgeon General’s report on isolation highlights effects on health

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Barret Michalec is Director of the Center for Advancing Interprofessional Practice, Education and Research (CAIPER), and is the associate professor of Arizona State University’s (ASU) Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation. On Arizona Horizon, he discussed the U.S. Surgeon General’s recent Advisory on Loneliness and Isolation. The report states isolation and loneliness are an epidemic as damaging to Americans’ health as smoking and obesity. Nearly half of U.S. adults reported experiencing loneliness in recent years.

“Isolation is not being a part of or being ostracized from the community. Whether it’s not being a part of groups or not being a part of organizations or just not feeling connected in that way,” said Michalec. This trend is growing among all age groups in the country and particularly in younger people from pre-teen to young adults.

“What the report lays out is an increase in heart disease, stroke issues, premature death, raise in Alzheimers, all related to this feeling of loneliness and isolation,” said Michalec. He stressed the impact these feelings of isolation can have in social settings as well as workplace settings.

One possible solution noted in the Surgeon General’s report is the strengthening of social infrastructure with more social settings like parks, libraries and playgrounds. The goal of this is to increase the opportunities for human engagement in order to combat isolation. Michalec supports these ideas but wants to focus on the problem on a broader scale.

“I think we also need to start focusing on a more national level and looking at what divides us in terms of the competition for scarce resources related to health, education, housing, financial capital. These are the things that push competition but also push away that human connection,” said Michalec.

Other possible solutions Michalec supports include paid family leave and more accessible public transport to try and bring individuals closer together.

Barret Michalec, Director of the Center for Advancing Interprofessional Practice, Education and Research, and Associate Professor of ASU's Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation

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