January 31, 2014
Russia’s Love Of Vodka Drives Premature Death Rates In Men
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Vodka has long been a part of Russian culture and that culture needs to change if the country wants to save the lives of thousands of its people.
According to a new study published in The Lancet, vodka is a major cause of the high risk of premature death in Russian adults – with a quarter of all Russian men dying before reaching 55.
"Russian death rates have fluctuated wildly over the last 30 years as alcohol restrictions and social stability varied under Presidents Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and Putin, and the main thing driving these wild fluctuations in death was vodka,” study author Richard Peto, an epidemiologist from the University of Oxford, told BBC News' Tulip Mazumdar.
In 1985, laws enacted under Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev drastically cut vodka manufacturing and did not permit it to be sold before lunch-time. The study team said alcohol intake fell by around 25 percent when the restrictions came in, and so did overall death rates. Then, when communism faded, people began drinking more – causing the death rate to rise yet again.
"When President Yeltsin took over from President Gorbachev, the overall death rates in young men more than doubled. This was as society collapsed and vodka became much more freely available,” Peto said. "There was a huge increase in drinking and they were drinking in a destructive way. They were getting drunk on spirits and then buying and drinking more, producing a big risk of death."
The research team noted the usage rates for women also changed with the politics, but women drank less on average so fatality rates for them were also reduced.
Many drinkers were smokers as well, which scientists said "aggravated" the fatality rates. Russia introduced stricter alcohol control actions in 2006, including increasing taxes and limiting sales. The study team said alcohol intake has dropped by a third since then and the percentage of men dying before they reach 55 years old has decreased from 37 percent to 25 percent. In 2011, each Russian adult consumed an average of nearly 3 gallons of pure alcohol each year, of which 1.8 gallons was in spirits, mainly vodka.
The study team said the main issue driving the high mortality rate is the way Russians drink alcohol.
“They binge drink. That's the main problem,” said study author David Zaridze, from the Russian Cancer Research Centre. “It's the pattern of drinking not the per-capita amount they are drinking."
"Russians have always drunk a lot,” Zaridze continued. “They sometimes say it's because of the cold weather but this is just an excuse. This is the nation's lifestyle that needs to change.”
"Since the average life expectancy from birth for men in Russia is still only 64 years, ranking among the lowest 50 countries in the world, more effective alcohol and tobacco policy measures are urgently needed,” he concluded.
Heavy drinking is so ingrained in Russian culture – they even have a word for a multiple-day drinking bender – “zapoi.”