Loneliness is the "hidden killer" among the elderly and as great a threat to health as obesity or smoking, a group of charities has said.
The warning came as five organisations joined forces on Tuesday morning to launch a Campaign To End Loneliness aimed at tackling isolation among older people.
Greater recognition is needed among health professionals of the two-way links between poor health and loneliness, campaigners added.
The initiative is being organised by Age UK Oxfordshire, Counsel And Care, Independent Age and WRVS and funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.
The group's report, Safeguarding The Convoy - A Call To Action From The Campaign To End Loneliness, published on Tuesday, urged better awareness of the "horror" of loneliness and its "pernicious impact" on older people.
According to a YouGov poll undertaken to support the launch, fewer than one in five people has ever seen or heard information about loneliness as a health risk, while fewer than one in three who worked in the health and social care professions said the same.
Andrew Barnett, director of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, the campaign's founder funder, said: "Loneliness is something which affects us all but older people are particularly vulnerable to becoming isolated, through loss of friends and family, loss of mobility or reduction in income.
"We need to consider not just the practical but the emotional and psychological implications of growing numbers of older people within our communities."
Loneliness blights the lives of about one in 10 older people and weakens society, the report said. It added that loneliness made it harder to moderate behaviour, leaving people more prone to drink excessively, have unhealthier diets or take less exercise.
Laura Ferguson, campaign director, said the "serious risks" of loneliness were not being treated as an important enough problem for public health.
Source Press Assoc