The Next Major Health Crisis Is Here and Growing At An Alarming Rate


What do you think is going to be the next major public health crisis? Will it be higher rates of heart disease? Cancer? Influenza? While those things are certainly major concerns, the American Psychological Association believes a growing health issue will be even more problematic in the future: social isolation.

In a press release, the APA revealed that new research suggests loneliness and social isolation may be a bigger threat to public health than obesity. These factors are becoming more widespread, and the effects of it are going to get worse unless we intentionally work to reverse them.

Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, explained.

“Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need — crucial to both well-being and survival. Extreme examples show infants in custodial care who lack human contact fail to thrive and often die, and indeed, social isolation or solitary confinement has been used as a form of punishment ... Yet an increasing portion of the U.S. population now experiences isolation regularly.”

Approximately 42.6 million adts over age 45 in the United States are estimated to be suffering from chronic loneliness, according to AARP’s Loneliness Study. In addition, the most recent U.S. Census data shows more than a quarter of the population lives alone, more than half of the population is unmarried and, since the previous census, marriage rates and the number of children per household have declined.

Holt-Lunstad presented data from two different large scale analyses. The first set involved 148 studies, with 300,000 participants, where researchers found that greater social connection is associated with 50 percent reduced risk of an early death.

The second set involved 70 studies from Europe, North America, and Australia, where observation of 3.4 million people revealed social isolation and loneliness had almost an equal impact on the risk of premature death as obesity.

There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators,” Holt-Lunstad further stated. “With an increasing aging population, the effect on public health is only anticipated to increase. Indeed, many nations around the world now suggest we are facing a ‘loneliness epidemic.’ The challenge we face now is what can be done about it.

This data is alarming. We've all known that obesity is a major health risk factor, but how many of us considered loneliness? The idea of dying early from a broken heart or loneliness is something we may attribute to a romance novel, but such an idea is not fictional at all.

The great philosopher Aristotle once wrote, "Man is by nature a political animal" [political being a synonym for "social"). Being in community with other people is our natural state of being; isolation from others is not what we are designed for. It is not surprising then that when people are socially isolated, their health deteriorates and they may even die prematurely.

The question now, is what shall we do to reduce isolation in our communities?