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Mental Health

Surgeon General Declares Loneliness as Harmful as Smoking, Obesity

— May 9, 2023

Loneliness and isolation can lead to poor health and even premature death.

Loneliness has been recognized as a significant health risk that could be as harmful as smoking, according to a report from the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. The study reveals that social isolation and loneliness can cause various physical and mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, and even premature death. The report also suggests that loneliness has a more significant impact on health than obesity.

“We now know that loneliness is a common feeling that many people experience. It’s like hunger or thirst. It’s a feeling the body sends us when something we need for survival is missing,” Murthy said. “Millions of people in America are struggling in the shadows, and that’s not right. That’s why I issued this advisory to pull back the curtain on a struggle that too many people are experiencing.”

The study highlights that people with fewer social connections are more likely to die prematurely than those with a strong social network. Furthermore, social media and other forms of online communication were not found to be an effective substitute for in-person interactions. The researchers emphasized maintaining face-to-face communication and relationships is necessary for preventing negative health effects associated with social isolation and loneliness.

Surgeon General Declares Loneliness as Harmful as Smoking, Obesity
Photo by Mikoto.raw Photographer from Pexels

Loneliness is a factor that affects many people across different walks of life, although it generally impacts seniors, people with disabilities, and individuals living in rural areas the most. Lately, it has become more common in today’s modern society across all ages, and the loneliness epidemic makes it essential to address the issue. Actions such as promoting face-to-face social connection, creating opportunities for community meetups, and public health campaigns could help raise awareness and address the issue on a larger scale.

The U.S. Surgeon General recommends that individuals and communities proactively find ways to combat loneliness. Community-based activities, especially free events, can help. Some other suggested steps include joining clubs or organizations, volunteering, and engaging in activities a person enjoys that involve others. The U.K. government has even appointed a Minister for Loneliness to tackle the issue, demonstrating the seriousness of the problem.

The Irish Times says, “Lack of social interaction is linked to increased risk of dementia, poorer physical health, lower psychological well-being, and reduced cognitive functioning.” This implies that social isolation could significantly harm the health and well-being of individuals and communities and it’s a significant public health concern affecting a considerable percentage of the U.K.’s population.

The COVID-19 pandemic could be viewed as the last straw, with social distancing and quarantine measures leading to increased social isolation and loneliness. Many people reported feeling disconnected and alone due to prolonged periods of isolation, leading to higher levels of anxiety and depression. The pandemic further emphasized the need for communities to take positive steps to address the issue.

Maintaining face-to-face communication and relationships is crucial in preventing social isolation and loneliness. Individuals and communities must take proactive steps to combat loneliness, including joining clubs or organizations, volunteering, and engaging in activities that promote social connection. For vulnerable populations, measures can be taken by social workers and other advocates to increase opportunities for socialization. Public health campaigns can also help raise awareness and address the issue on a larger scale.


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