Vivek Murthy

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Murthy, Vivek

Last Updated: Nov-09-2020
Annotated by:
Thomas, Shawn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Longform journalism


Since the first surgeon general was sworn into office in the 19th century, the Office of the Surgeon General has positioned itself as the leading voice on public health matters in the United States. In recent history, the office has had its highest profile campaigns rallying against issues such as tobacco use, obesity, and HIV/AIDS. Considering the combination of prevalence, morbidity, and mortality associated with these health issues, there is no doubt that any effort to stem the tide was a worthwhile endeavor.

When Dr. Vivek Murthy became the surgeon general in 2014, his office continued the historical campaigns against these health issues. At the same time, Dr. Murthy began investigating a looming epidemic within our borders: loneliness and social isolation.

It may be hard to convince the average person that loneliness is a problem of similar scale as tobacco use, obesity, or AIDS. There is no question that loneliness is unpleasant, even if it only lasts for a few moments. But the notion that one’s state of mind can predispose to disease or premature death somehow feels like a stretch. Addressing this skepticism, Dr. Murthy writes in his book about Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychologist at Brigham Young University who also faced a great deal of cynicism surrounding her research into the effect of social relationships on “everything from our behavior to our cellular function.” She had a breakthrough in 2010 when she published a massive study analyzing the health outcomes of over 300,000 participants, categorized by their degree of social connectedness. She found that social isolation was significantly linked to premature death, representing a risk nearly as serious as pack-per-day smoking, and more serious than obesity, alcohol use, and lack of exercise. Dr. Holt-Lunstad’s research spurred further studies which linked loneliness to heart disease, stroke, and depression, amongst other diseases.

These findings are hard to ignore, especially in light of the ongoing opioid addiction crisis and rises in teenage depression and suicide, all of which have been linked to loneliness and social isolation. In Together, Dr. Murthy weaves together scientific research, personal anecdotes, and current events to create a manifesto for tackling the next great public health crisis.

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