‘Loneliness as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day’

US health officials urge social isolation to be treated as seriously as drug abuse or obesity

News Desk May 03, 2023

An epidemic of loneliness in the United States is as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day, a top US health official has warned.

According to Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, a "profound sense of loneliness" has affected millions of Americans, BBC News reported.

Since nearly 50% of all Americans are thought to be affected, US health authorities are urging social isolation to be treated as seriously as drug abuse or obesity.

In an interview, Murthy revealed that his own struggles with loneliness began both during and immediately following the completion of his first term as Surgeon General in April 2017.

Loneliness is reported to increase the risk of premature death by almost 30%, through health conditions including diabetes, heart attacks, insomnia, and dementia.

The report stated that lack of social connection is also linked to lower academic achievement and worse performance at work, according to a new advisory. Murthy said that loneliness is a "profound public health challenge" that "we should talk about" and address.

Read more: Mental health helpline

The issue has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which led many people to reduce the size of their social circles. One study quoted in the report found a 16% decrease, on average, in the social network size of participants from June 2019 to June 2020.

In order to tackle this, Murthy has called for a collective effort to "to mend the social fabric of our nation" to "destigmatise loneliness and change our cultural and policy response to it".

His strategy has six pillars, including efforts to strengthen social infrastructure in communities, in part by utilising public health systems.

The advisory calls for more "pro-connection public policies" that are developed with the help of a research agenda to help address gaps in the data surrounding the effects of social isolation.

Murthy said that there are "steps we can take as individuals", such as spending 15 minutes with family members, refraining from using technology while chatting to others, and "looking for ways to help one another".

"Service is a powerful antidote to loneliness," he said. "These can all help".

According to White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, the guidance is a component of the Biden administration's larger initiatives to address mental health. In the US, May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

Although the declaration aims to raise awareness, there have been no recent pledges of federal funding to address the problem.


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