Buying Friends and Hugs: The Loneliness Epidemic in the US Has Turned Into a Business

On a summer weekend, Traci Ruble and 20 others sat in empty chairs on a street corner in San Francisco to talk to strangers. Another man, Chuck McCarthy, has given interviews in LA about the success of his app, People Walker, which charges “walkers” between $7 and $21 to have the company of another person on a walk. In San Diego, 65-year-old Adam Paulman attends a hug party where some 30 people paid $20 to participate in non-sexual touch. These types of initiatives proliferate as health authorities in the United States alert that there is a “loneliness epidemic.” Loneliness, they say, is a condition that is more harmful to a person’s health than obesity, and just as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The data backs up these claims. More than half of adults in the United States believe that nobody really knows them, and 46% acknowledge feeling lonely or left out, according to the latest survey conducted by Cigna and Ipsos.


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