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Loneliness could become a bigger health threat than smoking and obesity, studies show

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WASHINGTON (Circa) -- Various studies being released are starting to show the impact of loneliness on the world's population.

Governing Magazine says there is "an emerging consensus on loneliness suggests that it isn’t just bad for communities, it’s a legitimate public health threat."

The evidence can be found in a 2010 study done by Brigham Young University showing that loneliness can shorten a person's life by 15 years. This is almost the same as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

The American Psychological Association also says researchers have found that loneliness has an equal or even greater effect on premature death than obesity. They discovered this through a study that represented 3.4 million people based in North America, Europe, Asia and even Australia.

Loneliness' impact doesn't even have an age limit.

Over 40 million adults over the age of 45 are believed to be suffering from chronic loneliness, a study from the AARP revealed. Even millennials are impacted long-term due to loneliness, according to a study published in the Psychological Medicine journal.

"Lonelier young adults were more likely to experience mental health problems, to engage in physical health risk behaviours [sic], and to use more negative strategies to cope with stress," according to findings.

The United Kingdom is hoping to change the cycle and make an impact. Prime Minister Theresa May created a new role in her government in which she would be able to pick a minister of loneliness. Tracey Crouch currently serves in that role, as reported by Time Magazine.

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Crouch says risk factors for becoming lonely include "family breakdown" or a divorce. She also says that she has met with other lawmakers around the world who have residents suffering from the same issue - including Canada and Sweden.

Sachin Jain, president and CEO of CareMore, tells Governing Magazine that "a local approach" may help in easing the problem of loneliness. Jain doesn't believe public awareness campaigns are enough.

CareMore has established an initiative in four different states that has doctors asking senior citizens about how often they communicate with other people. A social worker will call or visit them if it seems as though the senior citizen is socially isolated.

A similar model could be established in the United Kingdom. Community connectors would work with a senior citizen who is lonely and create a plan that helps them feel like less of a pariah and become more connected with others.

“One of the things that’s key about loneliness is it’s so individualized, not everyone needs the same amount of interaction,” says Kellie Payne, research and policy manager for England’s Campaign to End Loneliness tells Governing Magazine. “The connector can help them understand what their personal needs are.”

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