The new global epidemic that causes as much damage as smoking 15 cigarettes a day

The World Health Organization has set up an international panel on loneliness to tackle this major global problem, the impact of which exceeds other serious public health problems such as obesity

Her problem loneliness as a pressing global threat to health is highlighted once again by the World Health Organization (WHO), at the same time announcing the creation of an international committee to manage the problem. The commission, which is scheduled to run for three years, will be headed by the U.S. Surgeon General, δρ. Vivek Murthy, while a member of the committee is, among others, the African Union Youth Envoy, Chido Mpemba – a committee made up of 11 advocates and government ministers, including Ralph Regenvanu, the climate change adaptation minister in Vanuatu, Oceania, and Ayuko Kato, the minister responsible for loneliness and isolation measures in Japan.

The decision to set up the commission comes in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has disrupted economic and social activity, increasing levels of loneliness, but also amid a greater awareness of the scale and importance of the problem. “Loneliness transcends borders and is becoming a global public health concern, affecting every aspect of health, well-being and development. Social isolation knows no age or boundaries”, commented Ms Mpemba.

It is recalled that, to highlight the magnitude of the problem, Dr. Murthy had compares the health effects of loneliness to those of smoking 15 cigarettes a day, adding that it is an even bigger problem than obesity and physical inactivity.

It is noteworthy that, while loneliness is often considered a problem of developed countries, Dr. Murthy points out that rates of older people experiencing social isolation are similar in all regions of the world. In older adults, loneliness is associated with 50% increased risk of developing dementia and 30% increased risk of coronary heart disease or stroke.

However, it is not exclusively an older age problem. Available evidence reveals that a 5%-15% of teenagers are lonely, with the problem being more pronounced in Africa (12.7% of teenagers) compared to Europe (5.3%). It appears, moreover, that young people who experience loneliness at school are more likely to drop out of university and be characterized by worse financial situation in their adult life. Feeling disconnected and unsupported in the work environment can lead to lower job satisfaction and performance, experts point out.

Mpemba revealed that across Africa, where the majority of the population is made up of young people, challenges related to peace, security and the climate crisis, as well as high levels of unemployment, contribute to social isolation. “We believe it is important to redefine the narrative surrounding loneliness, particularly for vulnerable populations excluded by the digital divide.“, he said characteristically.

Dr. Murthy added: “These issues are not unique to a particular country. It is an often underestimated problem, however, loneliness is a threat to public health».

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