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Cuban Strife Results in Fewer Deaths, Healthier People

Cuban Strife Results in Fewer Deaths, Healthier People

Unusual study shows benefits of diet, exercise

Good news doesn’t come out of Cuba very often. The island nation has been subject to US and other embargos, and has been run under the Communist rule of Fidel Castro (who stepped down two years ago) since the late 1950s. But from a near collapse of its economy, some good news comes: Cubans lost weight and got healthier.

A long economic crisis

It was a strange experiment: after the Soviet Union disintegrated in the late 1980s, Cuba—long dependent on the USSR—entered a long economic crisis. Food, fuel and cash were in short supply. People started walking places. Farmers tended to their fields and livestock without machinery. Meanwhile, the government was still operating, and able to watch the economic, cultural, and health changes happening in its country.

Unusual findings

Others were watching, too. A research team from Cuba, the United States and Spain were carefully analyzing government health data and taking their own records. What did they find? Writing in the British Medical Journal, the researchers found that between 1990 and 1995:

• Death rates from diabetes were cut in half by 1996
• Death rates from heart disease dropped by a third, also by 1996
• People lost, on average, 5 kg a year

These events did not happen suddenly, and were not accompanied by war or starvation. Sadly, as the Cuban economy recovered through the 2000’s, so did people’s weights. But it’s a great illustration of what could be done—under friendlier circumstances—to stem obesity and its health effects.

References: Franco, M., Bilal, U., Ordunez, P., Benet, M., Morejon, A., Caballero, B., Kennelly, J., & Cooper, R. (2013). Population-wide weight loss and regain in relation to diabetes burden and cardiovascular mortality in Cuba 1980-2010: repeated cross sectional surveys and ecological comparison of secular trends BMJ, 346 (apr09 2) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.f1515

Source: The Independent (UK)
Photo: Bud Ellison / Flickr

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1 Comment

  • Male Gringo
    July 13, 2015, 10:35

    Interesting, because I noticed the same phenomenon. I am the photographer here (Male Gringo). On my first trip to Cuba, I noticed how healthy everybody was. But more recently, with the introduction of a cheap brand of soybean oil, probably from Brazil, and of cheap frying chickens and low-quality pork to please the public, Cubans have put on a lot of weight. I wonder how the health statistics are going in the last few years.