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Vodka to blame for Russia's high early death risk

Twenty-five percent of Russian men under the age 55 die prematurely, more than three times the 7 percent rate in the U.K.

By Ananth Baliga
Vodka to blame for Russia's high early death risk
An elderly man bargains with a street vendor to buy a bottle of vodka in Moscow. (Filejr/Maxim Marmur/UPI) | License Photo

OXFORD, England, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Vodka is the liquor of choice for Russian men and this high consumption of vodka is leading many of them to an early grave, according to research.

A study of 150,000 men, published in the journal Lancet, found that those who drank three or more half-liter bottles of vodka per week had a higher risk of premature death than those who drank one bottle per week.

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After following these people for a decade, the study recorded 8,000 deaths over that period.

Currently, 25 percent of men under the age of 55 die in Russia as compared to 7 percent in the UK and just 1 percent in the U.S. This problem is compounded if these men were smokers. The 20-year risks of death for men aged 35 to 54 were 35 percent for men who drank more than three bottles a week and 16 percent for men who drank only a bottle.

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Under prior communist restrictions on alcohol, consumption fell and so did the early death rate.

"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," said Professor Sir Richard Peto of the Clinical Trial Service Unit at the University of Oxford.

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Major causes of death for these men were alcohol poisoning, violence and suicide, among others. While death rates in the U.K. have steadily decreased with the decline in smoking habits, death rates have followed the fluctuations in alcohol consumption in Russia.

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[University of Oxford] [The Lancet]

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