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Britain Isn't The Only Place With A Loneliness Problem

British Prime Minister Theresa May recently appointed a "Minister of Loneliness" after a report issued by the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness revealed 9 million Britons "often or always" feel lonely. In this file photo, May hosts a reception at Downing Street to celebrate the legacy of former MP Jo Cox. The Jo Cox Foundation and Commission on Loneliness is founded in the name of former member of parliament Jo Cox, who died after being shot and stabbed several times in 2016.
Eddie Mulholland/AP

Loneliness and social isolation can be as harmful to a person's health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to researchers at Brigham Young University. 

Britain is taking these statistics seriously. Following a report from the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness that revealed 9 million Britons "often or always" feel lonely, Prime Minister Theresa May appointed a "minister for loneliness" to work on solutions to this problem. 

Harvard Business School historian Nancy Koehn told Boston Public Radio loneliness is a serious problem in the United States, too. Over 40 percent of American adults report being lonely, according to a report published by former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy last year.

It's not just changing demographics — including lower marriage rates, higher divorce rates, and growing numbers of Americans who live alone — that are to blame, Koehn said. Another piece is the technological factor.

"We're lonely partly because we're spending so much time with our machines," Koehn said. "It turns out that excessive engagement with social media tends to correlate with loneliness."

Click the audio player above to hear more from Nancy Koehn.


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