How do you lose eleven pounds in five years and greatly reduce the fatal risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke?
Answer: Ask your Soviet supporters to fall apart and throw your country into economic turmoil, forcing you into a more physical lifestyle in which you have to walk and bike to places rather than ride cars and buses, and giving you less food to eat.
That's what happened in Cuba in the 1990s where health risks eventually returned and waistlines expanded once the country recovered, according to research in the British Medical Journal.
Summarizing the report, The Independent newspaper notes,
In a unique natural experiment, researchers have observed how a nation that lost an average of 5kg per head over five years contributed to a halving of the death rate from diabetes and a one third reduction in deaths from heart disease.
The natural experiment occurred in Cuba which was plunged into crisis in the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Its experience demonstrates what could be achieved elsewhere if the same changes could be brought about, without an economic crisis.
During the five years, fuel for vehicles was scarce, the government issued a million bikes to help people get around, and farmers resorted to manual rather than mechanized work. The story notes:
"Deaths from diabetes began to fall in 1996, five years after the start of the weight loss period, and remained low for six years. Deaths from heart disease and stroke which had been declining slowly since 1980 suddenly went into free fall from 1996."
Disease-linked fatalities returned to pre-crisis levels by the mid-2000s.
My own Cuban recipe for a healthy, happy life: pollo ajillo, béisbol and la musica.
Photo from David Shankbone via Wikimedia
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