Loneliness is officially a health emergency in California's San Mateo County, which is located in the San Francisco Bay Area and includes part of Silicon Valley.
As per CNBC report, the county's Board of Supervisors passed a resolSilicon Valley ution on Tuesday that declared loneliness a public health crisis and pledged to explore measures that promote social connection in the community.
It’s the first county in the U.S. to make such a declaration.
The resolution doesn’t directly set aside funds for programs to reduce loneliness; rather, it signals the county's commitment to addressing the issue and validates residents' experiences, said David Canepa, the Board of Supervisors’ vice president, who introduced the legislation.
"What we're trying to do is to really get people out of the corners and say, 'Hey, look, there are a lot of people who are feeling like you. You're not alone. And moving forward, here are some of the things that we can do to support you,'" he said.
Canepa added that the measure was partly inspired by efforts in the U.K. and Japan, which have each appointed national ministers to address loneliness. He was also influenced by conversations with his staff about the links between loneliness and smoking and diabetes, as well as an advisory from Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in May that urged governments to prioritize strategies to promote social connection.
Murthy wrote Friday in a post on X that he was grateful to San Mateo for leading the charge.
Around 17% of U.S. adults in a Gallup poll in February 2023 said they had experienced loneliness the day prior. Canepa said the rate in San Mateo is higher, pointing to a county-led survey in 2022 — the latest data available — which found that 45% of residents were struggling with loneliness and isolation.
An abundance of research has outlined serious health consequences associated with loneliness, including an increased risk of dementia, depression, anxiety, heart disease and stroke.
A November study found that people in the U.K. who lived alone and were not visited by friends or family had a 39% increased risk of premature death compared with people whose loved ones visited daily. An analysis published in 2010, meanwhile, found that social relationships — or lack thereof — had a greater influence on the risk of death than obesity.
Relative to white people, Black people face a higher risk of premature death linked to social isolation. Older adults have a higher risk of loneliness in general, since they are more likely to live alone or have chronic illnesses that limit their mobility or leave them homebound.
Canepa said San Mateo has a large share of older residents, many of whom became especially isolated during the pandemic. People ages 65 and up make up more than 18% of the county's population, compared with the state average of 16%.
“It’s sort of a perfect storm for older adults right now,” said Jennifer Steele, the CEO of Meals on Wheels San Francisco, an organization that delivers hot meals to seniors in northern San Mateo County.
“People don’t live close to their loved ones anymore," she said. "Sometimes people have outlived their loved ones in some cases. Your social circle shrinks after retirement. It’s harder for people to make friends.”
Around 45% of the seniors served by Meals on Wheels in northern San Mateo live alone, according to the organization.