Loneliness is deadlier than obesity or smoking — and Britain just took a major step toward prevention

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  • Britain has appointed a new minister of loneliness to battle the ongoing epidemic of loneliness afflicting senior citizens.
  • Psychology studies have suggested that loneliness can be a greater public health hazard than obesity or smoking.

Britain has appointed a minister for loneliness to take forward the work of murdered lawmaker Jo Cox and tackle the isolation felt by more than one in 10 people in the UK.

Sports minister Tracey Crouch will take on the new role, in addition to her existing job, and develop a strategy to address the problem, which research has linked with dementia, early mortality and high blood pressure.

Past studies have found chronic loneliness to be more life-threatening than obesity and smoking. Psychologists have come to call the global trend of isolationism a “loneliness epidemic.”

“We should all do everything we can to see that, in Jo’s memory, we bring an end to the acceptance of loneliness for good,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement. “For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life.”

Cox was murdered by a right-wing extremist in 2016, after being in parliament for little more than a year.

The majority of people over 75 live alone, and about 200,000 older people in the UK have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month, according to government data.

Most doctors in Britain see between one and five patients a day who have come in mainly because they are lonely, according to the Campaign to End Loneliness, a network tackling the health threat that isolation poses to the elderly.

The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, which the 41-year-old lawmaker set up shortly before her death, had called for a minister to be appointed to lead action on the issue.

“Jo would be over the moon,” her husband, Brendan Cox tweeted.

Crouch’s appointment follows other steps Britain has taken toward combatting loneliness. Five years ago, the first Silver Line center opened, giving lonely senior citizens a hotline to call when they want to socialize. Collectively, the centers receive more than 10,000 calls a week.

More than 3,000 volunteers work at the Silver Line, and many make follow-up calls to people battling the most extreme cases of loneliness.