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World Health Organisation Declares “Loneliness a Global Health Crisis”, Comparable to Smoking 15 Cigarettes Daily

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has officially recognised loneliness as a critical global health threat, equating its mortality impact to that of smoking 15 cigarettes daily. To address this issue, WHO has initiated an international commission, led by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and African Union youth envoy Chido Mpemba. The commission, comprising 11 advocates and government ministers, including Ralph Regenvanu of Vanuatu and Ayuko Kato of Japan, aims to tackle loneliness as a significant health concern, advocate for social connection as a priority, and expedite the implementation of solutions worldwide.

Over the course of three years, the commission will examine the pivotal role social connections plays in enhancing health across age groups and propose strategies to foster widespread social connections. WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus highlighted the severe repercussions of social isolation and loneliness, including heightened risks of stroke, anxiety, dementia, depression, and suicide. Dr. Murthy emphasised that loneliness, often perceived as a problem exclusive to developed nations, affects one in four older individuals globally.

The health risks associated with loneliness are likened to smoking 15 cigarettes daily and surpass those linked to obesity and physical inactivity, as stated by Dr. Murthy. The commission’s goal is to establish social connection as a global health priority and disseminate effective interventions. Loneliness, according to WHO, is particularly alarming in older adults, increasing the risk of dementia by 50% and the likelihood of coronary artery disease or stroke by 30%. The organisation also noted that 5% to 15% of adolescents experience loneliness, with these figures likely underestimations.

Chido Mpemba emphasised the universal nature of loneliness, transcending borders and affecting health, well-being, and development on a global scale. He highlighted the impact on young people, stating that loneliness at school increases the likelihood of university dropouts and can lead to poorer economic outcomes, as disconnected individuals may experience reduced job satisfaction and performance. In conclusion, the WHO commission seeks to address the growing global concern of loneliness across various demographics.

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