Tag Archives: health risk

What Loneliness Does to Your Health

One of the myriad reasons workplace wellness is not performing well is that all humans have about 100 risk factors, of which obesity, high blood sugar, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are only four. If those four are in pretty good shape but the other 96 are out of whack, don’t expect good health results.

Further, putting bandages on symptoms of metabolic disease has limitations. Such bandages do not address the root causes of metabolic syndrome. According to Wiki, “Root cause analysis (RCA) is a method of problem solving used for identifying the root causes of faults or problems. A factor is considered a root cause if removal thereof from the problem-fault sequence prevents the final undesirable event from recurring; whereas a causal factor is one that affects an event’s outcome but is not a root cause. Though removing a causal factor can benefit an outcome, it does not prevent its recurrence within certainty.” [Emphasis mine.]

One thing sorely missing from most modern wellness methods is RCA. Unless one deals with RCA in metabolic syndrome, it will continue to recur.

Some other huge health risks factors are job misery, terrible marriages, very poor money-handling skills, envy, general lack of contentment in life and loneliness. Another health risk is how far you live from a “dial-911 first responder.” Yet another is how safe your neighborhood is. I could go on and on. Worksite wellness does nothing to address the vast majority of personal health risks. My book, An Illustrated Guide to Personal Health, elaborates on such health risks.

This article will cover just one of those risks, loneliness, which among other things is a root cause of metabolic syndrome. (Let’s hope this information does not inspire true believers in wellness penalties to look for ways to charge lonely employees higher payroll deductions.)

Loneliness harms your immune system, makes you depressed, diminishes cognitive skills and can lead to heart disease, vascular disease, cancer and more. Loneliness is roughly the health risk equivalent of being a diabetic who smokes and drinks too much. Read on.

An article from the National Science Foundation explores the health hazards of loneliness. According to this article, “Research at Rush University has shown that older adults are more likely to develop dementia if they feel chronic loneliness.”

Moreover, John Cacioppo, neuroscience researcher of the University of Chicago, says of loneliness, “One of the things that surprised me was how important loneliness proved to be. It predicted morbidity. It predicted mortality. And that shocked me.”

Dr. Sanjay Gupta recently wrote, “The combination of toxic effects [of loneliness] can impair cognitive performance, compromise the immune system and increase the risk for vascular, inflammatory and heart disease.”

According to studies in Europe, loneliness has about the same health risk as obesity.

An article in Caring.com says, “A 2010 Brigham Young University review of studies involving more than 300,000 people concluded that loneliness is as unhealthy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic.

This is a headline in the U.K.’s Express: “Loneliness is as big a KILLER as diabetes.” The article describes how loneliness is like a deadly disease that decreases life expectancy and makes you more susceptible to cancer, heart disease and stroke. The study behind that conclusion was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Here are some personal observations:

Why do many people have so few friends as they age?

  • Maintaining long-term friendships takes a lot of work and investment of time.
  • Don’t let your career stand in the way. Don’t wait for someone to befriend you; reach out.
  • Some people have invested their time and energy solely in a spouse, who may predecease them by 25 years, or in children, who fly the nest in time.
  • Many people have invested much in work-related friendships, which, while genuine at the time, can wilt almost immediately when they retire or move on.
  • In friendships, one has to give more than he takes. Make yourself likable. Who wants to spend time with someone who complains all the time? People like that are often avoided by people around them.
  • Be a good listener.
  • If you’re lonely, try joining something…a place of worship, a book club, a hiking club, anything. In every community are places where everyone is welcome.

In the end, a true measure of your wealth is the number of lifelong friends you have. Having lifelong friends is a joy and a perfect cure for loneliness.

How to Calculate Return on Wellness

In the era in which wellness vendors were still claiming a return on investment (ROI_ on wellness (and more and more are not), I asked a number of them how they calculated the ROI. Not one calculated the ROI in a way that a steely-eyed CFO would endorse.

Below is a partial list of costs that wellness vendors should be considering, but rarely if ever do consider. If you have a wellness program and want to look for an ROI, make sure these costs are included:

1. Wellness vendor fees
2. Communication costs
3. Investments in materials (e.g., Fitbit) and facilities (e.g., onsite fitness centers)
4. The cost of biometric tests and health assessments
5. The cost of program incentives (awards, premium reductions, etc.)
6. The wages and benefits of the company’s wellness team members
7. The wages and lost productivity for employees to sit through biometric tests and wellness meetings, to read wellness memos and other communications and to fill out health risk assessments. (If 10,000 employees spend eight hours per year in wellness meetings, reading wellness emails, filling out forms, etc, at an average wage of $20/hour, the cost is $1.6 million.)
8. The cost of following-up on false positives from asymptomatic employees going to doctors for ill-advised tests. This one is not uncommon. (I’ve personally witnessed people who’ve had false positives on wellness exams and spent thousands of plan dollars just to explore false positives. The largest one cost a shade less than $70,000 to get an all clear. If you want to know the true cost of a wellness program, this impact can’t be ignored.)

Further, wellness vendors claim improvements in productivity, but most say the gains cannot be measured. That is a fallacy. Vendors need only look at a client’s wages as a percentage of sales (with a few minor adjustments). If that ratio is not declining, employee productivity is not improving.

For an excellent discussion on failures of wellness productivity claims click here.

The same principles apply to value on investment (VOI) claims, as well. Click here for an excellent review of what some call the VOI scam.

This post may be flogging a dead horse. So be it.

2 Studies of Why Wellness Fails

Henry David Thoreau famously said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation…”

People who lead desperate lives don’t make good subjects for wellness programs, nor, for that matter, lifestyle advice from doctors. Below are two real life examples of ordinary people I’ve chatted with about matters of personal health. After both of these conversations, I was quite humbled.

Case 1

I had a chance conversation with a pleasant but overweight woman I’ll call Donna, a cashier in a big city grocery store, who was about 50 years old. We were having a nice chat, and I asked her if she had opportunities to exercise after work. Donna said that, after being on her feet all day, she had to go home and put her feet up. That prevented her from having much of a social life, too. Donna said she would never have a better job, that she’d never buy a new car, nor afford vacations or holiday trips. Her rent was so high, it was all she could do to makes ends meet. Donna said her only fun in life was buying a take-home pizza and a six pack of beer once or twice a week. Take that away, and Donna said she had nothing. Truthfully, and sadly, in my heart I could not blame her.

Case 2

A few years ago I had a lengthy cab ride in Baltimore and struck up a good conversation with the cab driver, a friendly, middle-aged man I’ll call George. He asked what I did for living, which resulted in a good chat about personal health. George smoked, had high blood pressure and diabetes and was overweight. He said he’d tried to get those things under control but just couldn’t. The interesting part of the story is why he couldn’t control his health risks. George said he’d lived in Baltimore all his life and had the same set of friends since grade school. One night a week, they’d go bowling, eat huge meals and drink way too much beer. Also, once a week or so they’d go to a sports bar and do the same thing. George truly believed he’d have to give up his lifelong friends if he were to cut out that lifestyle. He knew it was slowly killing him, but he just wasn’t willing give up. It was hard to blame him either.

Those are two true stories of people trapped in a lifestyle they can’t or won’t willingly forfeit. Huge numbers of people are in the same boat.

Some people are going to comply with doctor suggestions on lifestyle without any help at work. But, if Thoreau is right, there are many people out there like Donna and George.

Bad lifestyle choices can be terribly complex. They virtually never arise from the lack of the kind of information that wellness vendors push as the solution.

A Surprising Health Risk: Loneliness

Loneliness is both sad and a major health risk. More and more people are professing loneliness in their lives, and more and more evidence is piling up that loneliness, like dissatisfaction in life, is a killer.

Here are some personal observations:

  • Why do many people have so few friends as they age? Maintaining long-term friendships takes a lot of work and investment of time. Don’t let your career stand in the way. Don’t wait for someone to befriend you; reach out.
  • Some people have invested their time and energy solely in a spouse, who may predecease them by 25 years, or in children who fly the nest in time.
  • Many people have invested much in work-related friendships, which, while genuine at the time, can wilt almost immediately when they retire.
  • In friendships, one has to give more than he or she takes.
    Make yourself likable. Who wants to spend time with someone who complains all the time? People like that are often avoided by people around them.
  • Be a good listener.
  • If you’re lonely, try joining something…a church, a book club, a hiking club, anything.

In the end, a true measure of wealth is the number of lifelong friends we have. Having lifelong friends is a joy and a great cure for loneliness.