NEW YORK (Agencies): The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a stark warning, stating that loneliness could soon reach epidemic proportions worldwide, leading to severe health implications such as dementia, heart disease, stroke, and premature death. In response, the WHO has launched an international commission dedicated to addressing this “global public health concern.”
The Commission on Social Connection will be co-led by U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and Zimbabwe’s African Union Youth Commissioner, Chido Mpemba. Dr. Murthy has previously equated the health risks of loneliness to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, emphasizing that it increases the risk of premature death by nearly 30 percent.
The WHO highlighted that loneliness affects people of all ages and regions, emphasizing its serious impacts on both physical and mental health, as well as community and societal well-being. The health authority reported that one in four older adults experiences social isolation, with up to 15 percent of adolescents also facing loneliness, though these figures are deemed conservative estimates.
Loneliness rates appear similar globally, irrespective of a country’s economic status. In Africa, Commissioner Mpemba cited challenges such as peace, security, unemployment, and the climate crisis as contributing factors to social isolation among the predominantly young population.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reportedly exacerbated loneliness internationally. The WHO’s three-year initiative aims to formulate global policies encouraging high-risk, isolated individuals to integrate into their communities. The commission asserts that social isolation is not an individualized issue but rather one that affects entire communities.
Potential solutions to the loneliness epidemic range from broad national policies to psychological interventions for individuals, according to the WHO. The Commission on Social Connection comprises 11 representatives from the U.S., Zimbabwe, Sweden, Pakistan, Japan, Vanuatu, Chile, and Morocco.
The commission’s inaugural meeting is scheduled for December 6, with plans to release a comprehensive report on global loneliness in the summer of 2025. Dr. Murthy expressed enthusiasm for collaborating with the commissioners to build a world that is “less lonely, healthier, and more resilient.”