A Former Surgeon General Thinks America Could Be Facing A Loneliness Epidemic

Dr. Vivek Murthy talks about his research into the difficult-to-see, but potentially devastating impacts of loneliness.

By Michael MarksOctober 9, 2017 3:17 pm

What’s the biggest health problem facing our country? Obesity, heart problems and drug abuse all seem obvious answers, but the reality may not be so straightforward. Loneliness can be difficult to see, but it is nonetheless a devastating health problem.

And loneliness has become more prevalent in recent years. Dr. Vivek Murthy, former surgeon general of the United States, has been writing about what he calls a loneliness epidemic.

So why shine a light on loneliness? Murthy says the condition, often ignored as impacting health, is stigmatized despite studies indicating that it can have negative impacts on health.

“Loneliness in fact is associated with a significant reduction in our lifespan – a reduction that is comparable to that of smoking fifteen cigarettes a day,” Murthy says.

How would a test for loneliness work? Because the condition is subjective, it can be very difficult to pin down its cause, according to Murthy. There is a significant correlation between loneliness and the use of social media and technology. And the United States is not the only country to see increased loneliness.

Europe and Latin America are also exploring ways to combat loneliness, but there’s no precise formula for eliminating or even reducing it.

“We have people who sit in open plan workspaces, but have everyone staring at a computer or attending a task oriented meeting where opportunities to connect on a human level are really scarce,” Murthy says.

Learn about the factors that contribute to loneliness and how to combat them in the player above.


Written by Nahila Bonfiglio.