The World Health Organization (WHO) has initiated a groundbreaking commission dedicated to cultivating social connections, recognizing loneliness as a significant health concern, as per a statement unveiled on Wednesday.
This commission, comprising representatives from various continents, is designed not only to spotlight social connection as a priority but also to expedite the implementation of solutions in countries of diverse economic statuses.
Helmed by U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and African Union Youth Envoy Chido Mpemba, the Commission, consisting of eleven members, will operate for three years.
Its mandate includes a comprehensive analysis of the pivotal role social connection plays in enhancing health across all age groups, along with proposing strategies to foster widespread social connections.
Contrary to the misconception that isolation and loneliness primarily afflict older individuals in affluent nations, the statement highlights their pervasive impact on the health and well-being of people worldwide, spanning all age brackets.
Statistics reveal that approximately one in four older individuals globally experiences social isolation, with similar rates observed across regions. Among adolescents, 5–15% grapple with loneliness.
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus emphasizes the severe consequences of high rates of social isolation and loneliness, citing elevated risks of stroke, anxiety, dementia, depression, suicide, and other health issues.
He asserts that the Commission will play a pivotal role in establishing social connection as a global health priority and disseminating effective interventions.
The risk associated with a lack of social connection parallels, or even surpasses, that of other well-known factors like smoking, excessive drinking, physical inactivity, obesity, and air pollution, leading to premature death.
Social isolation significantly affects physical and mental health, contributing to conditions such as anxiety, depression, and a 30% increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The COVID-19 pandemic, with its emphasis on physical distancing and lockdowns, has exacerbated loneliness rates.
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy emphasizes the timeliness of this initiative, asserting that addressing loneliness and isolation requires investments similar to those made in tackling other global health challenges.
Social disconnection extends beyond health ramifications, impacting education outcomes, with lonely high school students more likely to drop out of university. Economic consequences also arise, as job dissatisfaction and poorer performance result from feeling disconnected and unsupported at work.
Chido Mpemba, African Union Youth Envoy, underscores that loneliness knows no age bounds and emphasizes the importance of redefining the narrative around loneliness.
Across Africa and beyond, she advocates for critical investments in social connections to foster productive, resilient, and stable economies for present and future generations.