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Friday, January 31, 2014

Drinking Yourself to Death

Russian men have the lowest life expectancy of any group in the "global north." It has long been assumed that this is the result of excessive use of alcohol, especially vodka, and a study just published in The Lancet and reported on BBC News lends substantial weight to that idea.

The researchers summarize their methods as follows:
In three Russian cities (Barnaul, Byisk, and Tomsk), we interviewed 200 000 adults during 1999—2008 (with 12 000 re-interviewed some years later) and followed them until 2010 for cause-specific mortality. In 151 000 with no previous disease and some follow-up at ages 35—74 years, Poisson regression (adjusted for age at risk, amount smoked, education, and city) was used to calculate the relative risks associating vodka consumption with mortality. We have combined these relative risks with age-specific death rates to get 20-year absolute risks.
And the BBC succinctly summarizes the findings:
The study, in The Lancet, says 25% of Russian men die before they are 55, and most of the deaths are down to alcohol. The comparable UK figure is 7%. Causes of death include liver disease and alcohol poisoning. Many also die in accidents or after getting into fights.
The researchers also drew on previous studies in which families of 49,000 people who had died were asked about their loved ones' drinking habits.

The study also showed that alcohol-related deaths fluctuated in tandem with tighter or looser restrictions on, and higher or lower prices of, vodka in Russia, helping to establish a model of cause and effect. So, just as public policy has led to a decline in smoking in the US and now elsewhere, so it seems that public policy will be required to bring excess vodka drinking under control in Russia. This will probably happen after the Winter Olympics, rather than before.

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