The loneliness epidemic is making us sick

Obstacles
The feeling of isolation is overwhelming modern society as we know it. But fear not, there’s a cure for this social sickness.

Shocking studies have found that socially-isolated people are twice as likely to die prematurely than those with strong social relationships, as loneliness has been revealed to be as bad for humans as other health hazards like smoking, alcohol, and obesity. This particular research doesn’t even factor in the effects of loneliness on mental health and excludes death as a result of suicide or injury, so these scary statistics could, in reality, be even worse. Emotional health has always been linked to physical health, but now it’s really making people sick.

The UK has recently appointed the world’s first Minister for Loneliness, identifying the loneliness epidemic as a public health issue and starting a global conversation. Following this announcement, however, it became clear that loneliness is an issue that is still not taken seriously. Alongside the world’s inevitable tweets about Brexit, US late-night TV host Stephen Colbert joked “What next? A minister for feeling annoyed?” In light of estimates that loneliness is as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, these jokes lose a bit of their zing.

The stereotype of a lonely old lady is insufficient to the extent of the problem and the late politician Jo Cox stated that "young or old, loneliness doesn’t discriminate." With increasing urbanisation, people no longer live in intergenerational local communities and in high-rise city buildings it is common for neighbors to not know each other’s names. As the idea of independence is glorified, more and more people are living alone and the rise of social media replaces physical human interactions with smartphone screens.

Making loneliness a government priority is one of the most effective ways of mitigating the costs of an aging population. Prevention is better than treatment. And the UK is not the only country acting on this problem: the Dutch government is investing €26 million to tackle loneliness amongst the elderly; Germany is considering its own Minister for Loneliness; and people are waking up to the scale of the issue in Scandinavia, Ireland, Japan, and the US.

Treating loneliness as a serious medical problem before it requires a hospital bed is critical to decreasing the strain on health services.

As governments start to take action, here are a few charitable organisations that continue to fight against loneliness:

Kinder has identified how Age UK excels in terms of research, both in terms of using pre-existing research and producing its own. The organisation is very awake to the loneliness epidemic and combats the problem with its own “Befriending” services and campaigning for government action.

Mind is also tackling the loneliness epidemic through addressing the vicious cycle of mental health and loneliness.

But organised institutions aren’t necessary to help make someone feel less alone: just say hello! Asking somebody how they are, or offering a simple cup of a tea can make a huge difference to a person feeling isolated. Volunteering and community outreach programmes are also hugely effective remedies to loneliness, and modern tech actually provides an opportunity to connect with more people and organise meet-ups. Have conversations, fight the stigma, and let kindness be the cure. No one should have no one.

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  • Makeup guru Jeffree Star wants to sell pink vegan cheeseburgers

    Solutions

    American Internet celebrity and makeup artist Jeffree Star wants to open his own vegan-friendly fast-food chain.

    As reported by LiveKindly, Jeffre Star made the announcement during a live stream on his Youtube channel where he speaks to an audience of 11 million subscribers.

    During the video, the makeup guru said that he is "in talks" to start the business. The concept? A vegan-friendly ('that's the real gag") restaurant, selling pink cheeseburgers and cotton candy fries.

    Yes, you got that right.

    As noted by LiveKindly, this is not Mr Star's first foray into the world of veganism. Over the years, his beauty brand Jeffree Star Cosmetics already launched a series of vegan products like Thirsty, a vegan eyeshadow palette, and, more recently, the four festive vegan lip scrubs.

    We'll see whether these business plans will turn out to be something more substantial than a Youtube announcement.

    Meanwhile, we can't help but gladly notice that plant-based burgers and veganism at large are gaining momentum across different audiences.

    This story features:
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  • These are the 4 most effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint

    Your moment

    If we want to save our planet and ourselves from climate apocalypse, we need new policies and governmental action. We're not gonna save the Earth changing our household light bulbs.

    Extinction Rebellion – a burgeoning social movement to fight climate change that is taking hold in the United Kingdom – is asking for just this: governments must tell the truth about the ecological emergency and enact legally binding measures to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025.

    There are no other ways out of this mess: structural change is needed.

    However, this doesn’t mean that as individual citizens we can go on a carbon spree without consequences. Or that all the ways to reduce our personal carbon footprints are equally ineffective.

    Different studies highlight that there are four effective ways to cut on your individual carbon emissions. And no, changing light bulbs is not one of them.

    While we should keep asking for top-down changes, it’s also good to remember that we can start making an impact on the environment right now by adapting our lifestyle.

    1) Eat a plant-based diet

    Plant-based diets are gaining momentum, at least in the media. Many articles published over the past few months emphasize the importance of ditching meat to fight the climate breakdown.

    I enjoy the flavour of meat a lot and I’d find it difficult to go 100 percent vegetarian (let alone vegan) right now. Nevertheless, I can considerably decrease my meat consumption. This is already highly beneficial for the environment.

    Moreover, I can advocate for meat alternatives like plant-based or clean meat.

    2) Avoid air travel

    Flights are a notorious source of gas emissions. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to avoid flying. Many jobs require travelling on a regular basis and even though in many cases a virtual meeting will do just fine, there are still some occasions in which your physical presence is needed.

    How to solve this ethical dilemma? One solution might be to donate some money to carbon offsetting schemes. These projects can go a long way in fighting carbon emissions.

    3) Live car-free

    Research shows that living car-free saves about 2.4 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year (while a plant-based diet saves 0.8 tonnes of CO2 equivalent every year).

    I’m lucky enough to live in the Netherlands, a country where it's easy to move around without a car. This is possible thanks to an efficient public transportation system and the omnipresent cycle lanes.

    In this case, it’s interesting to notice how my personal decision to live car-free is supported by environmentally friendly public policies.

    4) Have a small family

    If someone doesn’t exist, she doesn’t have a carbon footprint. This reasoning might seem at the same time cynical and stupidly obvious. But it’s also true.

    According to Population Matters, having one fewer child is 25 more effective in cutting carbon emissions than living without a car.

    What else could I do to reduce my carbon footprint?

    Support Cool Earth, a highly effective organization that we thoroughly vetted.

    Cool Earth is not only an offset scheme. It provides grant funding to rainforest communities, supporting community work in rainforest protection and ensures their voice is heard in agreements about the future of the rainforests. At the time of writing, 234,436,540 tonnes of CO2 has been stored as a result of their projects. Their Asháninka project shields millions of acres of forest from loggers, with 901,679 acres saved to date.

    You too can help to save our planet. A more liveable Earth is just a click away 👇

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  • We vetted 5 celebrity charities to see whether they’re doing any good

    Obstacles

    It’s known that many celebrities support noble causes. After all, if you’re a celeb, you supposedly got the visibility and the money. So, you’re particularly well-suited to help other people.

    Some VIPs go the extra mile and found their own charitable organization.

    But are these celebrity-powered charities effective? Or even: are they doing any good?

    To answer these questions, we picked five charities founded by celebrities and ran them through our Kinder Vetting Framework. Let’s see what came out.

    The charities

    Our selection of charities below isn't based on any scientific criteria. We browsed lists of celebrity founded charities and tried to pick out a balanced list 

    These are the charities that we picked:

    • The Lopez Family Foundation. Co-founded by journalist Lynda Lopez and her sister singer Jennifer Lopez, the Lopez Family Foundation “advocates and invests in policies and programs that make a positive, measurable impact on communities and makes quality healthcare and health education available for underserved mothers and their children.”

    • Born This Way Foundation. A charitable organization created in 2012 by Lady Gaga and her mother Cynthia Germanotta “with the goal of creating a kinder and braver world” (we can’t help but sympathize with such aim).

    • The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. Created in 1998, the foundation was established with the mission of protecting the world’s last wild places.

    • The Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation was founded in 2003 by Angelina Jolie as a “conservation and community development program in the Samlout Protected Area” (Cambodia).

    • The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls is a nonprofit boarding school that provides “education and leadership opportunities” to disadvantaged girls in South Africa. 

    The Kinder Vetting Framework

    At Kinder, we developed a vetting framework to assess the performance of charitable organizations. At the moment, it’s made of two steps but we’re working to add another two in the near future.

    The first step is called Initial Screening. With it, we examine the transparency and accountability of charitable organizations by evaluating their official websites.

    In particular, we evaluate the charities on five parameters.

    • First off, we check if potential donors can easily contact the organization they want to donate to.
    • Then, we see if there’s relevant information about the organization's staff readily available online.
    • Third, we check if the organization makes its financial statements public.
    • We do the same for the organization’s strategic plans: can donors easily understand how the organization is planning to use the money raised in the future? 
    • And finally, we check if the organization has been involved in any scandal in the past. If yes, we want to see how it explained the scandal(s) to its donors.


    This is a fairly low initial threshold. To pass the Initial Screening, you need a score of 95.

    The second step is called Organizational Competence. With it, we try to determine whether a charitable organization is competent and well-suited to solve the problems it’s addressing.

    If an organization fails the Initial Screening, we usually don’t vet it on its Organizational Competence. Our aim in the next months is to start reaching out to all the organizations that fail the Initial Screening, share our results with them, and ask if they’re willing to improve their score.

    The results

    So, to start with, we just wanted to see whether the five celebrity-run charities passed the Initial Screening.

    I asked our in-house research team to have a look. This is the screenshot that they shared with me:

    Again, to pass the Initial Screening you need to score at least 95. None of them did.

    Quite discouraged, I read the notes the research team attached to the screenshot.

    All charities with the exception of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation lack relevant information about their strategic plans. At the same time, DiCaprio’s organization needs to improve on other parameters like publishing its financial statements.

    The Born This Way Foundation’s website was deemed “quite minimalist” by the research team, lacking information about key staff members and financial statements. Similarly, the Lopez Family Foundation should expand its website to include financial statements, strategic plans, relevant information about key staff members, and contact information (they don’t even have a contact form).

    Obviously, the fact these five charities don’t pass the Initial Screening doesn’t mean that they’re inherently inefficient. It just suggests that they should work more on their online transparency and accountability.

    In general, Kinder is not in the business of bashing charities and we would never share an organization’s poor results without discussing them with the relevant stakeholders beforehand. In this case, we made an exception since these five charities are exceptionally well-backed.

    And if you’re Lady Gaga, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lopez, Oprah Winfrey, or Angelina Jolie and want to improve the Initial Screening score of your foundation don’t hesitate to drop us a line at davide@kinderdonations.org

    Header Image: The Wolf of Wall Street © Paramount Pictures

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