Loneliness As Bad As Smoking 15 Cigarettes A Day: Here’s Why
Recognising loneliness as a pressing global health threat, the World Health Organisation has launched an international commission on the problem.
Across all age groups and regions, loneliness and social isolation have serious impacts on our physical and mental health, as well as on the well-being of our communities and society.
Anyone, anywhere, can be lonely. The WHO Commission on Social Connection (2024-26) seeks to see the issue recognised and resourced as a global public health priority.
Increasing Awareness Of Social Isolation
According to Dr Vivek Murthy, the US surgeon general, loneliness can be as bad for people’s health as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and even greater than those linked to obesity.
Loneliness and social isolation know no age or boundaries, said Chido Mpemba, the African Union youth envoy, describing them as a global public health concern.
The WHO Commission on Social Connection comes after the COVID-19 pandemic halted activities, increasing levels of loneliness, but also amid a growing awareness of the issue.
Increased Risk Of Dementia And Stroke
While loneliness is often seen as a threat to developed countries, the US surgeon general said the rates of one in four older people facing social isolation are similar across the globe.
In older populations, loneliness is associated with a 30% increased danger of incident coronary artery disease or stroke and a 50% increased danger of developing dementia.
Nonetheless, social isolation is a problem for young people too. Between 5% and 15% of adolescents are known to be lonely, according to figures that could be underestimates.
Loneliness An “Underappreciated” Threat
Loneliness can result in poorer economic outcomes as feeling disconnected and unsupported in a job could lead to poorer job satisfaction and performance.
The African Union youth envoy said young people facing social isolation at school are more likely to drop out of university, noting loneliness as an “underappreciated” threat.
Mpemba highlighted that across Africa, where most of the population is made up of youngsters, challenges around employment, peace, security and climate change are triggering loneliness.