Photo source: 123RF

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.

Getting to the root cause

Further, putting bandages on symptoms of metabolic disease has limitations. Such bandages do not address the root causes of metabolic syndrome. According to Wikipedia,

“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.

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

There are many factors that contribute to health risks

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, co-authored with Robert Woods, Ph.D., 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.

The health risks of loneliness

Loneliness harms your immune system, makes you depressed, impacts 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 in 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.

Per an article in Caring.com,

“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 UK’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 was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Here are some personal observations related to loneliness:

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 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 place of worship, a book club, a hiking club, anything. In every community are places everyone is welcome.

Related content: Distinguishing Grief, Loneliness or Depression in Seniors

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.

This post was first published Feb. 26, 2016. It was reviewed and updated on Aug. 14, 2019.

Tom Emerick
Thomas G. Emerick is the President of Emerick Consulting, LLC and Host of Cracking Health Costs. Tom´s years with Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Burger King Corporation, British Petroleum, and American Fidelity Assurance Company have provided an excellent blend of experience and contacts. His last position with Wal-Mart was Vice President, Global Benefit Design. Tom has served on a variety of employer coalitions and associations, including being on the board of the influential National Business Group on Health, the U. S. Chamber of Commerce Benefit Committee, and many others. Frequently in demand as a speaker for benefits and health care conferences, such as the internationally known World Health Care Congress, Tom´s topics include strategic health plan design, global health care challenges, health care economics, and evidence-based medicine.


  1. If you’re truly climate conscious and travel only by foot, by bike, by train and only by bus as an exception, it’s harder to make friends and even most religious communities are advocating the present fossil fueled traffic norm. An important article regerdless.

  2. If you pursue a career and normal life without contributing to climate change (i.e. no air travel or car and if you’re living in your own house buying electricity from renewable sources), it’s harder to get into any community since the truly climate conscious are for now a minority. Your only friends might be climate political activists! The findings of these studies are very important regardless.

  3. While I believe loneliness is contributing factor to poorer health, this article does not address some of the societal issues that are a driver for loneliness. Specifically, the proliferation of technology and social media make it very easy to “disconnect” from daily human contact and to rely upon instant messages, emails, texts, tweets, and social media posts to connect with friends, family and loved ones. While valuable tools, we’ve become quite reliant and some may believe that social media is an acceptable replacement for making human connections.

    One other note is that it is not the quantity of lifelong friends you have but the quality of the relationships in your life that make them fulfilling and worth nurturing.

    • Gigi, you make good points. In my book social media is a poor substitute for actual friendships. Your point on the quality of friendships is good too, but I vote for both quantity and quality, i.e., the more good lifetime friendships the better. But a few really good relationship are worth more than gold.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.