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Loneliness Is Now a Global Health Concern According to WHO

By Orgesta Tolaj


21 December 2023


© Anthony Intraversato / Unsplash

We have probably all felt lonely at least once in our lifetime. However, prolonged loneliness can have a way worse effect on you than you might expect. And while everyone who has gone through it knows about its severity, loneliness has never been discussed as an actual issue. This was until now. The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially recognized loneliness as a significant global health threat and is taking proactive measures through various initiatives to address this pressing issue.

Loneliness Is Now a Health Concern

The World Health Organization (WHO) has initiated a global commission. It recognizes being lonely as having the same impact on health comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes daily. This underscores the significance of addressing the issue as a public health concern.

To address this issue, WHO has established an international commission, headed by U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and African Union youth envoy Chido Mpemba. The commission comprises 11 advocates and government ministers. This includes officials from Vanuatu and Japan, reflecting a global effort to tackle loneliness.

Why Is Loneliness a Concern Now?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has formed a commission on social connection in response to heightened levels of loneliness exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Moreover, this three-year initiative acknowledges loneliness as a global public health concern with impacts on health, well-being, and development. The health risks associated with it, equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes daily, surpass those linked to obesity and physical inactivity, according to U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.

who declares loneliness as health concern
© Sasha Freemind / Unsplash

Who Suffers From Loneliness?

Loneliness is not limited to developed countries, as one in four older people experience social isolation globally. U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy highlights that the prevalence of social isolation affecting one in four older individuals is consistent across all regions. Additionally, among older adults, it is associated with a 50% increased risk of dementia and a 30% heightened risk of coronary artery disease or stroke.

However, the impact of loneliness extends beyond the elderly, affecting young people as well. Statistics suggest that between 5% and 15% of adolescents experience loneliness, though these figures are likely underestimates. Notably, in Africa, 12.7% of adolescents grapple with loneliness, surpassing the 5.3% reported in Europe.

The Youth Is Also Suffering

Loneliness in the youth demographic has broader implications. It contributes to academic challenges, with lonely students being more prone to dropping out of university. Additionally, the negative effects extend to economic outcomes, as feeling disconnected and unsupported in a job can lead to diminished job satisfaction and performance.

Unique Challenges of Loneliness

Chido Mpemba, the African Union youth envoy, sheds light on the unique challenges faced in Africa, where a predominantly youthful population contends with issues of peace, security, the climate crisis, and high unemployment, all contributing to elevated levels of social isolation. Mpemba emphasizes the importance of redefining the narrative surrounding loneliness, particularly for vulnerable populations excluded by the digital divide.

Dr. Murthy underscores that loneliness is not confined to the borders of any single country, emphasizing its status as an underappreciated global public health threat. Addressing loneliness is crucial for promoting holistic well-being and development across diverse populations.

Make sure to reach out to your family or friends if you ever feel lonely!

You might also want to read: Brain Health Habits to Improve Mental Health

Orgesta Tolaj

Your favorite introvert who is buzzing around the Hive like a busy bee!