The Scream by Edvard Munch circa 1893–1910
Best viewed in 'full screen.' Click on the bottom right of this vid
In the Thirteenth Century, the German king, Frederick II, was curious to learn what language babies would speak if no one spoke to them.
The king wondered whether they would come to speak Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, or perhaps the dialect of their biological parents if the infants were left on their own. To find out, a select group of infants were chosen.
The king ordered the foster mother and nurses who were to care for these tots to be absolutely silent. "Nurse them, clean them, bath them, but don't coo or speak to them," was his command. In the end, the experiment was a dismal failure. Not only did these children fail to develop any language skills. They all died.
A contemporary of the king, a man named Salimbene, offered this succinct analysis of what happened: "They could not live without the petting and the joyful faces and loving words of their foster mothers."
This relationship between loneliness and mortality has been of interest to psychologists since around 1914 – some 700 years after Frederick II’s failed experiment - when the medical profession finally woke up.
Dr. Hamill; Philadelphia: “no infant admitted (to the orphanage) under 1 year of age lived to be 2 years old."
Dr. Southworth; New York City: "… it was customary to enter the condition of every infant on its admission card as hopeless."
Dr. Knox Baltimore: "... None of those that stayed continuously in the institutions lived to the end of the first year."
The question is – does this sad state of affairs apply only to the very young? A recently published review of all the research to date suggests overwhelmingly not.
This report confirms what we have been saying for years:
- It kills through physiological pathways: we are social animals.
- Loneliness will kill you early whether you are a smoker or a non-smoker.
- It carries a greater risk of premature death than smoking itself.
- It carries a greater risk of premature death than obesity, alcohol and not exercising.
- More premature deaths are caused by loneliness than any other cause.
- The most important factor in avoiding premature death is avoiding loneliness.
Comparison of odds (lnOR) of decreased mortality across several conditions associated with mortality.
Click chart to enlarge.
Loneliness, in itself and independently of all other causes, is the leading cause of premature death across all age groups.
The reasons are complex, but there are implications that the impact of social isolation triggers potentially lethal physiological changes, possibly by suppressing the immune system. Many of the studies upon which this analysis draws relate to cardiac disease.
If you are already a smoker and stop smoking, it won’t increase your life expectancy by anything like as much as stopping being lonely. If you are a non-smoker, and your opportunities for social engagement are restricted, this puts you at more risk of premature death than being a smoker
In accepting the findings of the report - that isolation and loneliness pose a serious threat to physical good health - then we must acknowledge that any legislation resulting in the involuntary isolation of any group of citizens is culpably raising the mortality rate of that group.
In short, smokers, whom anti-tobacco lobbyists claim are suffering because of their habit, may equally be suffering as a direct result of the loneliness imposed on them by their (legislated) social isolation.
Furthermore, the report concludes, current public health intervention policies are seriously flawed because they are based on distorted perceptions: since there is far more published research on smoking than on any other 'lifestyle' issue, smoking becomes the most important factor - and certainly makes it the easiest to measure. This has led to the current obsession with smoking cessation, to the exclusion of other significant risk factors, in particular loneliness and our need for social engagement.
Tobacco Control is demanding nothing less than State-sanctioned manslaughter!