Writer’s curiosity sparks look at an unusual determinant of health: loneliness


Photo: Riccardo Cuppini via Flickr
Photo: Riccardo Cuppini via Flickr

Examining the social factors that can determine health sometimes means taking an unusual look at a subject, peeling back the layers to find something that really highlights how disparities affect people’s actual lives.

That is what veteran journalist Amy Ellis Nutt did in an extraordinary recent story about loneliness as a public health hazard. Appearing on the front page of The Washington Post, the piece takes a deep dive into how increasing isolation around the United States is affecting the health of many. In a new “How I Did It” piece for AHCJ, Nutt explains how she came up with and developed this story idea.

“Lonely people are dying, they’re less healthy, and they are costing our society more,” one expert told Nutt, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who  covers mental health for the Post.

Nowhere in the story did Nutt specifically cite loneliness as a “social determinant of health.” She didn’t have to. Loneliness may not be on the CDC’s official list of social determinants of health, but it’s clear after reading Nutt’s piece that it is a striking public health issue. And certainly more traditional SDOH – income, housing and where one lives, transportation – can affect the likelihood of someone feeling, and being, isolated.

The online version of Nutt’s main story also is accompanied by separate looks at loneliness in music and movies.

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