In a pivotal move, the World Health Organization (WHO) has introduced the Commission on Social Connection, recognizing loneliness as a significant health threat and aiming to prioritize social connection while accelerating solutions globally. Co-chaired by U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and African Union Youth Envoy Chido Mpemba, the Commission comprises 11 influential policy-makers, thought leaders, and advocates.
Operating over three years, the Commission will scrutinize the integral role social connection plays in enhancing health across all age groups, proposing scalable solutions. Beyond individual well-being, the Commission will explore how strengthened social connections contribute to economic progress, social development, and innovation in communities and societies.
Contrary to the misconception that isolation predominantly affects older individuals in affluent countries, social isolation and loneliness impact people of all ages worldwide. One in four older individuals experiences social isolation, with similar rates across regions. Research suggests that between 5–15% of adolescents experience loneliness, though these figures may be underestimations.
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus underscores the serious consequences of social isolation and loneliness, linking them to higher risks of stroke, anxiety, dementia, depression, suicide, and more. The Commission aims to establish social connection as a global health priority, sharing promising interventions to address these challenges.
Highlighting the gravity of the issue, lack of social connection carries an equivalent or greater risk of early death compared to well-known risk factors like smoking, excessive drinking, physical inactivity, obesity, and air pollution. The Commission will formulate a global agenda on social connection, raising awareness and fostering collaborations for evidence-based solutions on individual, community, and country levels.
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy expresses enthusiasm about advancing social connection with the Commissioners, emphasizing the need to invest in rebuilding the social fabric of society akin to addressing other global health concerns.
Recognizing the broader impact, the Commission notes that social disconnection can lead to poorer education and economic outcomes. Young people experiencing loneliness in high school are more likely to drop out of university, and feeling disconnected at work can result in poorer job satisfaction and performance.
Chido Mpemba, African Union Youth Envoy, emphasizes the universal nature of loneliness, calling for a redefined narrative and critical investments in social connection for productive, resilient, and stable economies across Africa and beyond.
The Commission, supported by a WHO-based Secretariat, will convene its inaugural leadership-level meeting from December 6 to 8, 2023, with a flagship report slated for release midway through the three-year initiative.