Social isolation is as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day; the British government is taking the problem seriously
By Katrina Caruso
Last summer, Statistics Canada revealed that 28% of Canadians live alone; just a few weeks later, the results of a US study showed that loneliness is as bad for you as smoking and presents a greater health risk than obesity, physical inactivity, or alcohol consumption. The lead researcher in that study said at the time that loneliness should be treated as a serious public health hazard. The UK government seems to be doing just that.
Following a December 2017 report from the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, according to which nine million people in the UK “often or always” feel lonely, Prime Minister Theresa May in January appointed a Minister for Loneliness.
Social isolation often plagues the elderly, particularly widows and widowers—the UK government’s own research found that roughly 200,000 older people in the country hadn’t spoken with a friend or family member in over a month. However, anyone can fall prey to loneliness. If left to fester, loneliness can lead to many other problems. According to former US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, loneliness can create a risk for mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, as well as dementia and cardiovascular disease.
The Red Cross was one of the funders of the commission’s report. The commission was named for Helen Joanne Cox, the UK Labour Party MP who was killed by a right-wing extremist in 2016. Cox had been a prominent figure in discussions on loneliness and had established the non-partisan commission to explore the problem. The new Minister for Loneliness will carry on her work. At the same time, the country’s Office for National Statistics will be implementing new measures to further study the scope of the problem.