Relationships: A public health priority

Healthy Reps

A robust body of scientific evidence suggests that being in high-quality close relationships and feeling socially connected are associated with decreased risk of mortality

Elevating social connection should be a public health priority, according to an article in a special issue of American Psychologist, the journal of the American Psychological Association. A robust body of scientific evidence suggests that being in high-quality close relationships and feeling socially connected are associated with decreased risk of mortality, according to researchers. Social isolation, loneliness and relationship discord are well-established risk factors for poor health. Despite the importance of social connection for good health, government agencies, healthcare providers and healthcare funders have been slow to recognize social connection as a public health priority, according to the authors. They give an overview of the extent of the problem (as many as 43 percent of U.S. adults older than 60 experience frequent or intense loneliness) and provide suggestions on how to integrate social relationships into public health priorities by researching and developing interventions to improve social connection.

An epidemic of loneliness?
Writing for Harvard Business Review, former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy spotlighted the growing “loneliness epidemic,” its risks to a person’s health and happiness — and five ways to fight back, beginning in the workplace, reports The Advisory Board Company. According to Murthy, “Companies in particular have the power to drive change … not only by strengthening connections among employees, partners, and clients, but also by serving as an innovation hub that can inspire other organizations to address loneliness.” Five steps to foster social connection at work are:

  • Evaluate how socially connected your workplace is. Do people feel valued by colleagues? Does the culture support giving and receiving kindness?
  • Foster understanding for what a “high-quality” relationship looks like. Positive emotions, such as kindness, compassion and generosity, enhance performance and resilience.
  • Prioritize the development of social connections. “Designing and modeling a culture that supports connection is more important than any single program,” says Murthy.
  • Urge workers to help others and accept themselves. “Although it may seem counterintuitive to assist others when you are feeling lonely, extending help to others and allowing yourself to receive help builds a connection that is mutually affirming,” Murthy writes.
  • Create opportunities to learn about colleagues’ personal lives. According to Murthy, “The likelihood that authentic social connections will develop is greater when people feel understood and appreciated as individuals with full lives.”

It’s not your imagination: Food allergies are increasing

Food allergies are commonly thought of as a childhood condition, but for some children, food allergies continue into adulthood, and adult-onset food allergy does occur, according to Robin Gelburd, president of FAIR Health. Healthcare claims data suggest that food allergies are predominantly, but not exclusively, found in young people. Almost a third (27 percent) of all claim lines with diagnoses of history of food allergy were attributable to patients between the ages of 0 and 3. Preschool age children (4-to-5-year-olds) accounted for 8 percent of the total, with individuals between the ages of 6 and 18 making up an additional third (31 percent). Altogether, patients 18 years old and younger accounted for 66 percent of the claim lines, those over 18 years old the remaining 34 percent. Private insurance claim lines (the individual procedures or services listed on an insurance claim) with diagnoses of anaphylactic food reactions climbed 377 percent nationwide from 2007 to 2016, according to FAIR Health. Among specifically identified foods causing anaphylaxis, the most common was peanuts (26 percent), followed closely by tree nuts and seeds (18 percent).

Colon cancer growing concern for white Americans under 55
Colorectal cancer (CRC) incidence has been increasing in the United States among adults younger than 55 years since at least the mid-1990s, with the increase confined to white men and women and most rapid for metastatic disease, reported researchers in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA. 2017;318(6):572-574. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.7630) Although CRC mortality is declining overall, trends for all ages combined mask patterns in young adults, which have not been comprehensively examined.

Improving bone mineral density in prostate cancer patients
One in two men with prostate cancer receives androgen deprivation therapy (ADT). Unfortunately, ADT is associated with many potential adverse effects, including significant bone loss and increased risk of fractures. But researchers from McMaster University report in Annals of Internal Medicine that evidence shows improvements in bone mineral density with biophosphonates, but whether this is associated with reduced fractures remains unclear. Evidence from available trials show fracture reduction was restricted to one drug: denosumab.

Progress stalls in preventing stroke deaths
Progress in preventing stroke deaths has slowed, following years of progress, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the CDC does not specifically address the reasons behind the slowdown, other studies point to increased numbers of Americans with risk factors such as high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. Almost 800,000 people have a stroke each year and more than 140,000 die, even though about 80 percent of strokes are preventable. Blacks continue to have the highest stroke death rates among all races/ethnicities, and stroke death rates increased among Hispanics by 6 percent each year from 2013-15.

Take a movement break
Excessive sedentary time, whether accumulated throughout the day or accrued in prolonged, uninterrupted bouts, is a significant risk factor for all-cause mortality, regardless of exercise habits, according to researchers. Taking movement breaks every 30 minutes throughout the day could help to mitigate the negative health effects of too much sitting. A study published in Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that physical activity guidelines should target reducing and interrupting sedentary time in addition to setting daily goals for moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity. Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center, New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and other institutions studied a national cohort of 7,985 black and white adults aged 45 years or older to examine the association between sedentary behavior (its total volume and accrual in prolonged, uninterrupted bouts) and all-cause mortality. Sedentary time was objectively measured using a hip-mounted accelerometer. According to the authors, taking a break from sitting every half hour could help to mitigate the negative effects of sedentary time.

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