Russian public health faces a serious crisis. For decades, the death rate in the country has grown at a relentless pace, doubling since 1970. Russian males born today have a life expectancy of 59.3 years. In the United States, men can expect to live 16 years longer, on average. Russian women fare a bit better, mostly because they consume half as much alcohol - the key culprit.
A new report by Stanford professors Grant Miller, PhD, and Jay Bhattacharya, MD, PhD, with economist Christina Gathmann of the University of Mannheim, while confirming the grim toll alcohol has taken on Russia, shows that an major anti-alcohol public health campaign in the mid 1980s had achieved great success in reversing the deadly trends.
In a article on the study in today's Stanford Report, Adam Gorlick summarizes some of the remarkable impacts of the Mikhail Gorbachev-era campaign:
New regulations slashed official alcohol sales by two-thirds, drove up prices by as much as 50 percent and prohibited stores from selling booze before 2 p.m. on business days. Showing up drunk at work or on the streets could cost Russians a hefty fine or land them in prison....The campaign also emphasized alternatives to drinking. A national temperance society was formed, propaganda promoted sobriety and administrators in all Soviet districts - called oblasts - were required to build more parks and sports clubs to encourage family-friendly fun.
The researcher's thorough demographic analysis of the Russian public health data they assembled clearly shows the campaign had a major impact:
The number of deaths plummeted in 1985 and remained below the pre-campaign trend throughout the late 1980s. That translated to a 12 percent decline in mortality rates: about 665,000 fewer deaths. But by the early 1990s, shortly after the campaign was dropped - and at the same time that the Soviet Union crumbled - the number of deaths began to climb.
Unfortunately, the public health gains all but disappeared once the campaign ended, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Alcohol consumption and alcohol-related deaths began to increase again, and the country's mortality rates have since climbed to the unprecedented levels observed today.