Loneliness is a feeling as old as time, but it can lead to poor brain health and shorter life expectancy. According to America's top public health official, Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, loneliness is "as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and more lethal than consuming six alcoholic drinks a day," opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof writes for The New York Times as part of a series titled "How America Heals," aimed at finding ways to fix this problem.

Chronic loneliness cuts deeper than sadness; researchers have linked it to strokes, heart disease, dementia, inflammation and suicide. Kristof writes, "It's also more dangerous than physical inactivity, obesity and air pollution, Murthy says. . . . It breaks the heart literally as well as figuratively." The physical and societal problems that result from loneliness are so harmful Murthy issued a rare advisory in May with a framework to rebuild social connection and community in the United States.

Research also shows Americans have been growing lonelier. A majority of adults (58%) report experiencing loneliness, according to a Morning Consult survey commissioned by The Cigna Group, a health insurance company. Why did loneliness increase? Kristof says the trends toward larger homes and longer working hours have left less time to share meals, and he notes studies that show social media has led to people being more lonely. Pets and talking robots have been suggested as solutions, he writes, but "It seems that there's something to be said for friends who are living, breathing human beings."

Kristof writes that there are ways to build connections that bind us together, including some approaches taken in the United Kingdom, which he says "is the pioneer of these efforts, having established the post of minister for loneliness in 2018. Britain oversees public-private partnerships that collectively knit millions of people together with programs like nature walks, songwriting workshops, and community litter pickups.

Read the full article about loneliness by Heather Close at The Rural Blog.