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San Mateo County to commit $1 million to fight loneliness – Neefina – Breaking News Today | Latest News US

San Mateo County will commit to allocating at least $1 million to fight an epidemic of loneliness, Supervisor David Canepa said in a forum Wednesday on the topic in Redwood City.

This is the first financial commitment made by a county official to address loneliness as a public health concern two months after the Board of Supervisors declared it a public health emergency.

“I’m here to announce that the County of San Mateo has committed to Peninsula Family Service $1 million. The bottom line is we cannot have our nonprofits doing the work if we don’t invest in the nonprofits,” Canepa said during the event, hosted by Peninsula Family Service, a nonprofit based in the city of San Mateo. “We are committed to doing that.”

Canepa told this news organization at the sidelines of Peninsula Family Service’s forum “Overcoming the Epidemic of Loneliness: A Community Challenge” that the budget will be proposed and voted on by the board sometime in September.

He said it would be a “one-time allocation” that would be sourced from the county’s budget or Measure K, a local sales tax fund that can be tapped to finance local social services.

Peninsula Family Service CEO Heather Cleary said that if the funds are approved, they would use it to scale up existing projects that help improve social connections among older adults and youth.

“With the increased allocation of resources, we are really tackling awareness in this county, to send the message to everyone that loneliness is normal,” Cleary said. “There are ways to increase belonging in community. We have a variety of tools at Peninsula Family Service to support you.”

Peninsula Family Service has programs to help older adults remain socially connected, such as an affordable transportation service, peer counseling, an older adult activity center, and a technology training program.

For younger children, the nonprofit has an early learning program that offers “nutritious meals, high-quality curriculum and interventions for children who have experienced trauma.”

During the forum, public health experts lauded the county for recognizing social isolation and loneliness as a health risk.

“We have to remember that some parts of loneliness are a normal part of the human condition. But when it becomes longstanding and severe, it is absolutely a health condition,” said Carla Perissinotto, professor of geriatric medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who has authored extensive research on the health impacts of loneliness.

While the medical community has largely not yet caught on to recognizing social isolation and loneliness as health issues, Perissinotto said the science is catching up.

“I think it’s starting to be recognized, but I think our medical models have not focused on the social determinants of health, and loneliness is a social determinant of health,” she said. “San Mateo has taken the lead.”

A survey by the county found that about 45% of residents reported difficulties with social isolation and loneliness, which prompted Canepa to author the resolution.

A report by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy compared the physical affects of loneliness to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.

The report also found poor or insufficient social connection raises the risk of heart disease by 29%, stroke by 32%, and increases the likelihood of developing dementia by 50%. Murthy also emphasized that lacking social connection elevates the risk of premature death by more than 60%.

After San Mateo County’s resolution, Murthy said he was “grateful” for the local government’s initiative in recognizing loneliness as a health emergency.

Across the U.S., according to 2023 estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, loneliness and social isolation cost the economy at least $406 billion a year, in addition to $6.7 billion in Medicare costs among older adults.

“We need to show the same amount of seriousness (as the surgeon general),” Canepa said. “We’re going to work with academic institutions, Peninsula Family Service, and the county health department, and formulate a program that will be the first and most innovative in the country.”

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