An estimated 50 percent of all American adults reported experiencing loneliness, and according to data, the health risks linked to loneliness are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes daily.
Murthy advised urgent action to address this health crisis. He also said that there is no substitute for in-person human interaction.
On May 3, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an 81-page report from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on how loneliness and isolation affect human health.
According to the report, the lack of social connection and loneliness can increase the risk of premature death by 60 percent, the risk of heart disease by 29 percent, the risk of stroke by 32 percent and the risk of dementia by 50 percent among older adults.
Loneliness is "the quality and quantity discrepancy between the social relationships that a person desires and what they actually have." Meanwhile, social isolation refers to "a lack of connections within a social network or community."
Experts warn that people who experience both loneliness and social isolation may suffer from more psychological stress and have a less healthy lifestyle compared to others who are more socially active.
In a 2010 study published in the journal PLoS Medicine, scientists analyzed 148 studies with 308,849 volunteers with an average follow-up time of 7.5 years.
The results revealed that people who had stronger social relationships had a 50 percent higher likelihood of survival than individuals with poor or insufficient social relationships. This impact is similar to quitting smoking and surpasses other well-known risk factors for mortality, like obesity and physical inactivity.
In a 2015 meta-analytic review published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, the influence of both loneliness and social isolation on mortality risk is similar with well-established risk factors for mortality.
In a 2020 study published in The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, researchers reported that loneliness is a serious risk factor for all-cause dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease.
Murthy warned that the country's loneliness and social isolation epidemic "has been an underappreciated public health crisis that harms individual and societal health."
With the significant impact of loneliness and isolation on overall well-being, he added that it is crucial to "prioritize building social connections, just as we prioritize addressing other critical public health issues such as obesity, tobacco and substance-use disorders."
In 2018, Ipsos, a market research company, conducted an online survey for Cigna. The survey involved 20,096 American adult participants aged 18 and over.
According to the survey results, at least 46 percent of respondents reported sometimes or always feeling alone while 47 percent felt left out.
At least 54 percent of the respondents reported that they sometimes or always felt as though no one knew them well, 43 percent felt that their relationships were not meaningful and 43 percent felt isolated.
According to the HHS report, Americans have become increasingly less involved in community organizations, labor unions, religious groups and similar groups in recent decades.
A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, a U.S. polling organization, found that there has been a slight decline in the percentage of people who say they believe in God, pray daily and attend church or other religious services regularly.
Data collected by the Do Good Institute at the University of Maryland also suggested that there are decreased volunteerism rates in the United States.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 data, there were 37 million single-person households in America, accounting for 28 percent of all households, compared to only 13 percent in 1960.
Additionally, the percentage of adults living with their spouse has gone down from 52 to 50 percent over the past decade. (Related: CDC report: Suicides soared to 48,183 in 2021 after two-year decline.)
In a 2023 study published in the journal SSM-Population Health, data indicated that from 2003 to 2020, Americans spent an average of five fewer hours per month with family and 20 fewer hours per month participating in social activities with friends.
On the other hand, their alone time increased by an average of 24 hours per month.
The study also revealed that the loneliness epidemic had the greatest impact on young people aged 15 to 24. The social engagement of this age group declined sharply from 2003 to 2019.
This is worth looking into because adolescence and young adulthood are crucial periods for socializing with non-family members. This also suggests that the current generation of young Americans is experiencing a consequential loss in socialization experiences.
The HHS report also showed that young people aged 15 to 24 have seen a massive 70 percent decrease in time spent with friends within the past 20 years.
The report also had some suggestions to help address the loneliness epidemic, such as:
The results of a 2017 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that people who spend more than two hours per day on social media were twice as likely to experience perceived social isolation compared to people who used it for less than 30 minutes daily.
In an interview, Murthy warned that social media mainly drives the rise in loneliness and that there is no alternative to in-person interaction.
"As we shifted to use technology more and more for our communication, we lost out on a lot of that in-person interaction. How do we design technology that strengthens our relationships as opposed to weaken them," said Murthy.
Visit BeatDepression.news for more stories about mental health and how to fight depression.
Watch Dr. Pam Popper discussing how pandemic measures like social distancing and isolation contributed to the loneliness epidemic.
This video is from the Wellness Forum Health channel on Brighteon.com.