Surgeon General: Loneliness as dangerous as smoking to American health

By Brian Ward

Loneliness is as big a health risk as smoking a dozen cigarettes daily, according to a 81-page report from the office of Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD. Released on May 2, the report explains that loneliness increases the risk of premature death by nearly 30%, and that about half of all American adults say they’ve experienced loneliness.  

“We now know that loneliness is a common feeling that many people experience. It’s like hunger or thirst. It’s a feeling the body sends us when something we need for survival is missing,” Murthy told The Associated Press in an interview. “Millions of people in America are struggling in the shadows, and that’s not right. That’s why I issued this advisory to pull back the curtain on a struggle that too many people are experiencing.”

Like many problems in healthcare, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated an existing problem to a new degree as quarantine and social distancing forced people to isolate themselves. People culled their friend groups during the pandemic as well, and the use of social media and telecommunications has not been able to fill the need for connection.

“There’s really no substitute for in-person interaction,” Murthy said. “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?”

Average time spent alone increased by 24 hours a month from 2003 to 2020. And for young people aged 15 to 24, there was a 70% decrease in time spent in-person with friends during the same time period.

For anyone struggling with loneliness or in a bad place, please call 988 or go to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at

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