Russian Life Expectancy Linked to Alcohol

The 1990s were a turbulent time for Russia, and there were large swings in life expectancy among its populace, as the Soviet Union broke up and its successor state changed from communism to democracy.

But the swings in life expectancy may not be so closely related to the changes in Russia's political life, according to a study published today in the medical journal The Lancet.

Instead, a group of Russian and British scientists say the changes in life expectancy during that time can be attributed to a more constant factor in Russian life: alcohol.

Anti-Drink Equals Longevity?

Over the past 15 years, life expectancy in Russia has varied from roughly 58 years to 65 years for men, and roughly 71 to 74 years for women.

Life expectancy in Russia was at its peak in the mid- to late-1980s, after the general secretary of the Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev, instituted an anti-drinking campaign in 1985.

But in 1991, there was a steep decline when the Soviet Union collapsed. It has improved since 1994.

The investigators say increase in life expectancy since has mainly been driven by a decrease in deaths from causes linked to heavy drinking, like acute alcohol poisoning, cirrhosis, suicide and homicide.

Death rates among those aged 25-60 years decreased in this time, investigators said — but they remained high among young adults aged 15-24 because of to a high rate of violence in that age group.

"This study provides further support for the view that alcohol has played an important part in the fluctuations in life expectancy in Russia in the 1990s," said Martin McKee, one of the researchers.

He added, however, "There remains a need for a much better understanding of the factors underlying these continuing changes."

The study was conducted by Vladimir Shkolnikov and colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Germany, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

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