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Russia: Study Shows Heart Problems Among Highest In The World

A study at a university in Switzerland has found that deaths from heart disease and stroke among men of all ages in Russia are among the highest in the world. RFE/RL interviewed the lead author of the study, who says alcohol and smoking are major contributors to this alarming rate.

Washington, 2 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A new research study shows that deaths from heart disease and stroke among men of all ages in Russia are among the highest in the world, and at a record high in the country.

Smoking, alcohol consumption, and a diet high in fat have all contributed to the alarming rate, says the study, combined with the social, political, and economic upheaval over the past decade.

The leading author of the study, Fabio Levi, a medical doctor at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, told RFE/RL in an interview that from the 1960s to the 1990s, deaths from heart disease and stroke steadily increased in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. But in the 1990s, he says, this rate exploded, and the Russian Federation now has the highest rate in Europe and one of the highest rates worldwide.

"Our explanation is to be conducted mostly to this social disruption which happened, which led to general problems in diet. There is a very high alcohol and smoking consumption and there is a very, very deficient control of hypertension in these countries."

Comparing figures used by the World Health Organization, Levi and his colleagues discovered that from 1995 to 1998 -- the latest statistics available -- deaths from coronary hearth disease in Russia were 330 deaths per 100,000 men of all ages.

By comparison, Levi says deaths from coronary disease in the United States are 121 per 100,000 men of all ages. The average for the European Union is around 100 deaths per 100,000 men. The lowest rates in the world are in Japan and the Congo, with rates of about 40 per 100,000 men. Levi calls the discrepancy "significant."

Levi says he and his colleagues compared data from 47 countries, including many from Europe, the countries of the former Soviet Union, North and South America, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand for the time period of 1965-1999.

The problem in Russia is alarming, he says, because in most other major nations around the world, the rates of cardiovascular disease and stroke are falling. For example, in the U.S. deaths from heart disease are about two-thirds lower than three decades ago. In Western Europe, deaths from heart disease have fallen by 32 percent after peaking in the late 1970s. Rates in Japan and Australia are also steadily decreasing.

"We can observe improvements in most of the countries in which probably there has been a decrease in smoking, mostly among men."

Levi says in Eastern Europe that positive trend is observed in Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic. He says the three countries made significant strides starting in 1990 in reducing these health problems. But the news is not so good for the remainder of Eastern Europe and most of the other countries of the former USSR, he says.

"In the other Eastern countries, mostly the new political entities which have been originated from the partition of the former Soviet Union, these small countries now show quite unfavorable trends. And, among the other countries we studied for a sufficiently long time, we can cite Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania for which the trends are particularly unfavorable."

Levi says the problems in Russia are largely due to the vastness of the country and the political and economic difficulty in launching an effective intervention to improve health conditions nationwide. He says international aid to Russia would assist it in organizing the country's health care system, starting with effective campaigns to curb smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.