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Russian men drink too much vodka...and it's killing them

At present, one in four Russian men die before the age of 55.

A Moscow woman holds two bottles of Russian-made vodka in downtown Moscow in 1997.
A Moscow woman holds two bottles of Russian-made vodka in downtown Moscow in 1997.
Image: AP PHOTO/ Misha Japaridze

VODKA IS THE primary factor in the high and sharply fluctuating death rates among Russian men.

That’s according to a new study published today in The Lancet journal which asked 151,000 people how much vodka they drank, then followed them for up to a decade, during which 8,000 had died.

At present, one in four Russian men die before the age of 55. This is compared to a rate of 7 per cent of men in the UK with alcohol and tobacco use the main cause of the difference in premature mortality.

The study jointly carried out by the Russian Cancer Research Centre in Moscow, Oxford University and the WHO with co-author Professor Sir Richard Peto from Oxford saying that the changing availability of alcohol in Russia can be seen to have influenced premature death rates:

Russian death rates have fluctuated wildly over the past 30 years as alcohol restrictions and social stability varied under Presidents Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and Putin, and the main thing driving these wild fluctuations in death was vodka. This has been shown in retrospective studies, and now we’ve confirmed it in a big, reliable prospective study.

A similar study carried out five years ago which looked back at causes of death over a period of time also found similar results.

Both studies found much higher risks of death in men who drank three or more bottles of vodka a week than in men who drank less than one bottle a week.

The excess mortality among heavy drinkers was mainly from alcohol poisoning, accidents, violence, suicide, and eight particular categories of disease.

Study leader Professor David Zaridze from the Russian Cancer Research Centre in Moscow says that moderate alcohol controls introduced in 2006 have shown how curbing hazardous drinking can help.

“People who drink spirits in hazardous ways greatly reduce their risk of premature death as soon as they stop,” he said.

The average life expectancy of a man in Russia is 64 years-of-age, ranking among the lowest 50 countries in the world,  so researchers have cautioned that further controls are needed.

Read: ‘A fight for power is not for me’: Putin foe Khodorkovsky vows to stay away from Russia >

Explainer: What exactly is going on in Ukraine? >

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Rónán Duffy

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