Highlights from the U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Loneliness

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy produced the advisory, “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation,” this year, which labels loneliness as a significant health concern for individuals and society. A Surgeon General’s Advisory calls the American people’s attention to an urgent public health issue and provides recommendations for how it should be addressed.

In Murthy’s introductory letter to the advisory, he tells of embarking on a cross-country listening tour, where people told him they felt isolated, invisible, and insignificant. He said it was a lightbulb moment and that social disconnection was far more common than he realized.

“In the scientific literature, I found confirmation of what I was hearing,” he said. “In recent years, about one in two adults in America reported experiencing loneliness. And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic cut off so many of us from friends, loved ones, and support systems, exacerbating loneliness and isolation.

“Loneliness is far more than just a bad feeling – it harms both individual and societal health. It is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, and premature death. The mortality impact of being socially disconnected is similar to that caused by smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day…”

One area the advisory highlighted was technology overuse, which can displace in-person engagement, monopolize attention, reduce the quality of interactions, and even diminish self-esteem. Technology overuse can, in turn, lead to greater loneliness, fear of missing out, conflict, and reduced social connection. In a U.S.-based study, participants who reported using social media for more than two hours a day had approximately double the odds of reporting increased perceptions of social isolation compared to those who used social media for less than 30 minutes per day.

Murthy said the profound effects of loneliness can be felt by anyone and are best helped by a strong community.

Consider these tips from the advisory about what you can do if you feel lonely or socially isolated.

* Participate in community groups. Try to participate in at least two community groups per week, such as religious, sports, civic, or other groups. This provides opportunities for socializing, meeting new people, and feeling connected to a group.

* Reduce distractions. Put your phone away, particularly when having a meal or an important conversation. Make time with your family and others a priority by focusing on them in the moment.

* Invest in relationships. Spend consistent and frequent time with others. Make sure the time is high-quality by decreasing distractions.

* Don’t go it alone. If you’re struggling, look for help from others. Family members, friends, counselors, and healthcare providers can help you. You can also call 988 or text HOME to 74174 during an emergency to connect to a professional 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

* Core values of connection. Take time to reflect on how you approach others in your actions and conversation. Consider how kindness could change a situation or the importance of treating others with respect.

Loneliness is a complex issue, and the causes are varied. Take action by trying the tips listed above or learning more from the Surgeon General’s advisory. He has also written a book, Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World

Yes, You Can Can! 13 Food Preservation Pointers

While many people know and understand basic freezing and dehydrating methods for preserving foods, it becomes a different story when they contemplate bottling. 

         Food preservation is a science- and research-based practice. It is different from creative cooking. When preserving food with water-bath or pressure canning, a kitchen must be turned into a laboratory by following instructions exactly and using proper procedures. That is why many home canners are disappointed to learn their favorite fresh salsa or grandma’s stew is not recommended for home canning, nor are things like butter, bacon, or pureed squash. 

         Here are 13 tips to help guide both the novice and the seasoned home preservation enthusiast this canning season:

1. Follow canning directions exactly.

2. Always use up-to-date, scientifically tested recipes, and only use approved canning methods (boiling water bath or pressure).

3. Adjust altitude by adding more time to water bath canning or increasing pressure for pressure-canned products.

4. Be sure that canned products have a proper lid seal.

5. Don’t add extra starch, flour, or other thickeners to a recipe.

6. Don’t add extra onions, chilies, bell peppers, or other vegetables to salsas.

7. Be sure to vent the pressure canner properly.

8. Get your dial-type pressure canner gauges tested annually. 

9. Don’t use an oven instead of a water bath for processing.

10. Be sure to acidify canned tomatoes properly.

11. Do not cool the pressure canner under running water.

12. Do not let food prepared for “hot pack” processing cool in jars before placing them in the canner for processing. 

13. Be aware of recent reports of vinegar in grocery stores labeled at 4% acidity. The vinegar percentage needs to be 5% to be safe, so be sure to check the label.

           If you have questions, the best option for finding safe, scientifically based answers for proper food preservation is to contact your local USU Extension office. Additional canning information can be found at canning.usu.edu. Or check out our Preserve the Harvest online course here. Use code PRESERVE23 for a $5 discount.

           The satisfaction of preserving food is well worth the time and effort it takes. With instruction from approved resources and a dash of common sense, this season may be the best ever for adding to your food storage shelves!

By: Kathy Riggs, Utah State University Extension family and consumer sciences professor, kathleen.riggs@usu.edu, 435-586-8132

Help Grandchildren Cultivate a Close Relationship with Grandparents

A close relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is mutually beneficial when it comes to the health and well-being of both. Grandparents provide acceptance, patience, love, stability, wisdom, fun, and support to their grandchildren. This, in turn, has positive effects on a child’s well-being. A study by Sara Moorman and Jeffrey Stokes, Department of Sociology, Boston College, found that children who grow up with greater emotional closeness to their grandparents are less likely to be depressed as adults. For grandparents, a close relationship with their grandchildren can boost brain function, protect against depression, and increase lifespan. 

In today’s world where many families do not live in close proximity, it’s important for parents to help cultivate a close relationship between children and grandparents by encouraging frequent contact. Consider these tips.

1. Visit often. Grandparents should be invited to visit their grandchildren’s home often. When grandparents live in a different town or state, planning a trip to visit them can fill a child with anticipation and excitement. Even if the visits are infrequent, they will help your child view the time with their grandparents as special.

2. Use technology. There are many options that can help children and grandparents stay in contact such as Zoom, Facetime, email, texting, and social media. Grandparents can record themselves reading a bedtime story to their grandchildren, and grandchildren can send personalized messages and pictures. 

3. Share photos.  Place photos of grandparents in your home and point them out to your children often. You can also create a family photo album. If your children are not able to see their grandparents frequently, they can still learn about who they are and feel of their importance in the family.

4. Write letters.  Who doesn’t love to receive a letter in the mail? Encourage communication via mail or email with grandparents and grandchildren participating. Both will anticipate the regular communication and feel the excitement of receiving responses.

5. Teach skills.  Whether it is fishing or sewing, many grandparents have a hobby or skill they would love to pass on to their grandchildren. Teaching can be done in person or with technology. Provide children with necessary tools and materials so they can learn from grandparents. 

6. Climb the family tree.  Ask grandparents to share family stories and ancestry. Perhaps they can help the  children draw a family tree. Children of all ages enjoy learning about family history, traits they share with ancestors, and the things that make them who they are.

More information and research references are available at https://tinyurl.com/h2z7exuw.

By: Christina Pay,Utah State University Extension assistant professor, Christina.pay@usu.edu,


Helping Your Child Adapt to Changes

The past few years have been full of change, adjustment, and relearning. While we are all learning to navigate these changes in addition to other normal life challenges, parents also have the added responsibility to help their children. Consider these tips on how to help your child successfully navigate changes.

  1. Be open and honest. Children look to caring adults for advice and guidance. Talk about potential changes and what they can expect. Be as open as possible with them about your thoughts and feelings, while also being sensitive to what they can understand developmentally. Acknowledge their fears and answer their questions the best that you can.
  2. Help children explore their feelings about change. Encourage children to use writing, drawing or other creative methods to explore their feelings about changes.
  3. Involve children in decisions about change. While they may not be able to control changes they are experiencing, including them in decisions can help them feel more in control.
  4. Keep their routine as normal as possible. Children need stability and structure. Daily, predictable routines can provide comfort, stability, and dependability to children, especially during times of change.
  5. Put yourself in their shoes. When compared to adults, children have limited experiences. Some things that are very important to them may seem insignificant to adults that have more experience and perspective. Make an effort to see situations from your child’s perspective and respond with empathy.
  6. Get support. Work together with teachers and child care providers to support children through big changes. When needed, seek professional help for support.

Change is inevitable and will happen to everyone. By following these tips, you can know you are doing what you can to support youth in adapting to changes successfully.

Additional resources:

Signs of distress in children and how to help them reduce stress and support their well-being: https://www.unicef.org/parenting/child-care/how-to-recognize-signs-of-distress

Teaching children positive coping skills:  https://www.easternflorida.edu/community-resources/child-development-centers/parent-resource-library/documents/positive-coping-skills-during-life-changes.pdf


Dalton, L., Rapa, E., & Stein, A. (2020) Protecting the psychological health of children through effective communication about COVID-19. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, 4(5), 346-347. https://www.thelancet.com/action/showPdf?pii=S2352-4642%2820%2930097-3

Stephens, K. (2007). Ways to teach children positive coping skills during life changes. Parenting Exchange. https://www.easternflorida.edu/community-resources/child-development-centers/parent-resource-library/documents/positive-coping-skills-during-life-changes.pdf

Unicef. (n.d.) How to recognize signs of distress in children. https://www.unicef.org/parenting/child-care/how-to-recognize-signs-of-distress

By Naomi Brower, Extension Professor and AJ Evans, USU Extension Intern