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Vodka linked to early deaths in Russia

Variety of Russian vodkas
Variety of Russian vodkas

Although Vladmir Putin likes to display his physical prowess and “good health” every chance he gets, the sad fact is that 25% of his fellow country men face an extraordinary high risk of dying before the age of 55 due to heavy consumption of Vodka according to a new study led by Prof Sir Richard Peto, from the University of Oxford, in the UK. This compares to 7% in the United Kingdom, and less than 1% here in the US.

In fact, life expectancy for Russian men is only 64 years, making it one of the lowest among 50 countries in that category.

“Russians have always drunk a lot. 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. In fact, Russian adults are known to consume an average of 20 liters of vodka annually,” added. Researcher Prof David Zaridze, from the Russian Cancer Research Center “ That's the main problem. It's the pattern of drinking not the per-capita amount they are drinking."

In conducting their study, the researchers followed approximately 151,000 adult males in the cities of Byisk, Barnaul and Tomask from 1999-2010, questioning them about their drinking habits. After 8,000 later died, the scientists followed up to record their causes of death and found that they included liver disease and alcohol poisoning, as well injuries from alcohol fueled fights and accidents. Others ended up with lung cancer (because they also smoked heavily while drinking).

It was also interesting to note that Peto and the others found that "Russian death rates have roller coasted during the past 30 years due to “fluctuations in alcohol restrictions and social stability varied under Presidents Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and Putin.”

For instance Mikhail Gorbachev drastically cut vodka production in 1985, and forbade selling it before lunch-time, resulting in a 25% drop in drinking, as well as the overall rate of deaths. However, when Yeltsin came to power as the communist regime collapsed, "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," Peto stated. “Russia brought in stricter alcohol control measures in 2006, including raising taxes and restricting sales.”

While the researchers also found that a large number of Russian women also drank heavily, they did not have enough information to draw any conclusions in their regard.

For more information about the study (which was funded by in part by the UK Medical Research Council) readers can find Peto’s full report in yesterday’s online issue of Lancet.

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