Resources Backgrounder

Social isolation and the value of community connection

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About this resource

This backgrounder provides an overview of the latest research on how social isolation affects low-income Canadians.


Current context

Social isolation is a complex issue linked to physical, emotional, and psychological well-being, and influenced by personal, community, and societal factors. Seniors and people living on low incomes are among the most vulnerable: an estimated one in six Canadian seniors are socially isolated, and people living on low incomes are twice as likely to be lonely and six times more likely to be social isolated. More and more people are eating alone, with a recent American study showing that nearly half of meals and snacks are eaten in solitude.


Why it matters

Social isolation has damaging effects on physical and mental health, well-being, and overall quality of life. The health risk of being socially disconnected is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day or heavy drinking, more harmful than not exercising, and twice as harmful as obesity. Eating alone has been linked to depression in adults, and poor physical and mental health in children.

Building social and community connections can prevent and address social isolation and the associated risks. 


What we do about it

Community cooking and gardening groups, community meals, and affordable produce markets have all been found to improve social connections and sense of belonging. Community Food Centres and Good Food Organizations offer these and other programs to give people the opportunity to come together around food in a warm, welcoming, and relaxed setting where they can make friends and share experiences.

95% of CFC participants surveyed in 2017 felt they belonged to a community at their CFC, and 87% had made new friends who they feel close to, can talk to about what’s on their mind, or call on for help.