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Young, not elderly, are the loneliest generation in America, poll finds

A lone motorcyclist drives on a long road in Frankfurt, Germany.
A lone motorcyclist drives on a long road in Frankfurt, Germany. The Associated Press file

Young people, or those ages 18 to 22, are the loneliest generation in the United States, reports a new survey. And social media doesn’t seem to be a factor.

The study, sponsored by global insurer Cigna, found that Generation Z reported a loneliness score of 48 on a scale of 20 to 80. Seniors, or those 72 and up, had a loneliness score of 39, with the national average at 44.

Millennials, just a little older than Generation Z, reported a loneliness score of 45.3.

The survey polled 20,000 Americans ages 18 and up using the UCLA Loneliness Scale, a 20-item questionnaire created to gauge loneliness.

It also found that nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone or left out. One in four Americans rarely or never feel that others really understand them.

And about 43 percent sometimes or always feel their relationships are not meaningful, the survey found. Americans who live with other people are only slightly less likely to be lonely.

But people who reported heavy use of social media had only a slightly higher loneliness score than those who are never on social media, at 43.5 percent versus 41.7 percent, according to the survey.

Jagdish Khubchandani, a health science professor at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., warned in USA Today that social media can provide a false sense of relief from loneliness, however.

"I have students who tell me they have 500 ‘friends,’ but when they’re in need, there’s no one,” Khubchandani said.

The Cigna report also finds that, perhaps not surprisingly, face-to-face interaction can be a cure for loneliness. The right balance of sleep, socializing, physical activity and personal time also can help reduce loneliness.

"There's a blurred line between mental and physical health," David M. Cordani, president and chief executive officer of Cigna, told National Public Radio. "Oftentimes, medical symptoms present themselves and they're correlated with mental, lifestyle, behavioral issues like loneliness."

Previous studies have associated loneliness with higher risks of coronary heart disease and strokes, NPR reports. Loneliness also produces genetic changes and interferes with the immune system.

“We have robust evidence that it increases risk for premature mortality," Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychologist at Brigham Young University, told NPR.

Dorothea Lange Elementary School in Nipomo added a 'Buddy Bench' to help students make friends and feel less lonely. Several other Lucia Mar Unified School District schools have also added benches.