The U.S. surgeon general on Tuesday declared widespread loneliness in the United States the latest public health pandemic, comparing its effects on people’s health to those of smoking a pack of cigarettes every day.
In his 81-page research, Dr. Vivek Murthy found more than half of U.S. residents have felt lonely at some point.
According to Murthy, healthcare experts have concrete proof that loneliness impacts a significant part of the U.S. population, causing sensations akin to hunger and thirst.
“The feeling the body sends us when something we need for survival is missing,” Murthy explained.
He stated that he wants to raise awareness of issues that impact most people and encourage them to speak out instead of enduring silence.
The Surgeon General’s declaration seeks to increase conversations surrounding loneliness, though Murthy doesn’t foresee any legislation or formal federal action ahead.
The declaration noted that, in recent decades, Americans reported feeling lonelier because of their declining involvement in religion, civic groups, and families.
Single-person homes had doubled over the past 60 years but worsened when COVID-19 struck, forcing most Americans to abandon school, workplaces, and social visits.
According to the advisory issued by Murthy, individual health and the lack of social connection pose a significant risk to one’s longevity.
Among the symptoms, are excessive cigarette smoking and death.
The advisory noted that a poor or insufficient social connection has ties to a high disease prevalence, a 29% increase in the risk of heart disease, and a 32% increase in the risk of having a stroke.
The potential for anxiety, depression, and dementia is increased when an individual is lonely, the advisory cautioned.
Murthy said the lack of social connection may increase susceptibility to viruses and respiratory illnesses.
In older adults, it’s estimated that social isolation leads to more than $6.7 billion in additional Medicaid spending because of extra hospital and nursing facility costs.
The Surgeon General also warned that isolation and loneliness lower academic achievement and worsen performance at work.
Additionally, employers lose about $154 billion each year because of stress-related absences by employees.
“Given the profound consequences of loneliness and isolation, we have an opportunity, and an obligation, to make the same investments in addressing social connection that we have made in addressing tobacco use, obesity, and the addiction crisis,” Murthy asserted.
“This Surgeon General’s Advisory shows us how to build more connected lives and societies. If we fail to do so, we will pay an ever-increasing price in the form of our individual and collective health and well-being.
“And we will continue to splinter and divide until we can no longer stand as a community or a country. Instead of coming together to take on the great challenges, we will retreat to our corners—angry, sick, and alone.”