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In older adults, loneliness is associated with increased risks of dementia, coronary artery disease and stroke (Bigstock)

The World Health Organisation has declared loneliness to be a pressing global health threat, with the US Surgeon General saying that its mortality effects are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Source: The Guardian. 

WHO has launched an international commission on the problem – led by the US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and the African Union Youth Envoy, Chido Mpemba – of 11 advocates and government ministers, including Ralph Regenvanu, the minister of climate change adaptation in Vanuatu, and Ayuko Kato, the minister in charge of measures for loneliness and isolation in Japan.

It comes after the COVID-19 pandemic halted economic and social activity, increasing levels of loneliness, but also amid a new awareness of the importance of the issue. The WHO commission on social connection will run for three years.

“[Loneliness] transcends borders and is becoming a global public health concern affecting every facet of health, wellbeing and development,” Ms Mpemba said. “Social isolation knows no age or boundaries.”

The health risks are as bad as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and even greater than those associated with obesity and physical inactivity, according to Dr Murthy.

While loneliness is often seen as a problem for developed countries, Murthy said the rates of one in four older people experiencing social isolation are similar in all regions of the world.

In older adults, loneliness is associated with a 50 per cent increased risk of developing dementia and a 30 per cent increased risk of incident coronary artery disease or stroke.

Young people experiencing loneliness at school are more likely to drop out of university. It can also lead to poorer economic outcomes; feeling disconnected and unsupported in a job can lead to poorer job satisfaction and performance.


WHO declares loneliness a ‘global public health concern’ (By Sarah Johnson, The Guardian)