US Public Health Chief: Loneliness Is As Deadly As Smoking

NEW YORK (AP) — Widespread loneliness in the United States poses health risks comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and costs the healthcare industry billions of dollars a year, the US Public Health director said Tuesday. United in declaring a new public health epidemic.

About half of American adults say they have experienced loneliness, said Dr. Vivek Murthy in an 81-page report from his office.


“We now know that loneliness is a common feeling experienced by many people. It is like thirst or hunger. It is a sensation that the body transmits to us when something that we need to survive is missing, ”Murthy explained to The Associated Press in an interview. “Millions of people in the United States suffer in the shadows, and that is not right. That is why I issued this notice to remove the veil on a struggle that too many people are experiencing.”

The official statement is intended to raise awareness about loneliness but will not unlock federal funding or programs dedicated to combating the problem.

Studies show that Americans, who in recent decades have reduced their involvement with temples, community organizations, and even their own family members, have consistently reported increased feelings of loneliness. Furthermore, the number of individual households has doubled in the last 60 years.

But the crisis worsened drastically with the spread of COVID-19, which forced the closure of schools and workplaces and left millions of people in the country isolated at home, far from relatives and friends.

People reduced their friendship groups during the coronavirus pandemic and the time they spent with those friends, the public health report said. Americans were spending about 20 minutes a day in person with friends in 2020, up from 60 minutes a day nearly two decades earlier.

The loneliness epidemic hits young people between the ages of 15 and 24 especially hard. That group reported a 70% drop in time spent with friends over that same period.

Loneliness increases the risk of premature death by nearly 30%, and the report noted that people with few social relationships were also at higher risk of stroke and heart disease. Isolation also increases a person’s chances of suffering from depression, anxiety, and dementia.

The public health director called on workplaces, schools, technology companies, community organizations, parents and others to make changes that would increase human connections in the country. He recommended people join community groups and put down their cell phones when out with friends, employers to carefully consider their telecommuting policies, and health networks to train doctors to recognize the resulting health risks. of loneliness.

Technology has quickly exacerbated the problem of loneliness, and a study cited in the report found that people who used social media for two hours or more a day were more than twice as likely to report feelings of social isolation than people who spent less than 30 minutes a day to those platforms.

Murthy said that social media in particular was driving the rise in loneliness. His report suggested that tech firms deploy protections, especially for minors, around their behavior on social media.

“There is no substitute for in-person interaction,” Murthy said. “As we use technology more and more for our communication, we lose out on that in-person interaction. How do we design technology that strengthens our relationships instead of weakening them?”