November 20, 2023
NEW DELHI – Loneliness has been officially recognized as a global public health concern by the World Health Organization (WHO), highlighting its potential impact on human well-being. WHO has initiated an international commission on loneliness, emphasizing its adverse effects on health, which can be as severe as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
The gravity of the situation has prompted the establishment of a three-year commission led by Dr. Vivek Murthy, the US surgeon general, and Chido Mpemba, the African Union youth envoy. Comprising 11 advocates and government ministers, including Ralph Regenvanu from Vanuatu and Ayuko Kato from Japan, the commission aims to address the growing issue of loneliness on a global scale.
The COVID-19 pandemic, with its disruptions to economic and social activities, has exacerbated loneliness levels. However, the awareness of this challenge has also increased. Loneliness is not exclusive to developed countries; Murthy points out that one in four older people globally experiences social isolation.
The consequences of loneliness are far-reaching, affecting both older adults and young people. In older adults, loneliness is linked to a 50% increased risk of developing dementia and a 30% increased risk of coronary artery disease or stroke. Young people, too, are not immune. Between 5% and 15% of adolescents experience loneliness, with higher rates in Africa (12.7%) compared to Europe (5.3%).
The impact of loneliness on young people extends beyond health, influencing educational and economic outcomes. Lonely adolescents are more likely to drop out of school, and a sense of disconnection in the workplace can result in reduced job satisfaction and performance.
The commission on social connection reflects a global commitment to tackling loneliness as a public health issue. With representatives from various regions, the commission aims to develop strategies and interventions to mitigate the impact of loneliness, recognizing its pervasive nature across different age groups and regions.