Heart disease and diabetes dropped as Cuba went through economic hard times – Part 1

Heart disease and diabetes dropped as Cuba went through economic hard times – Part 1

‘Eat less and walk everywhere’ are two of the golden rules of the healthy centenarians all over the world, and it is some of the best advice you will ever hear.

“Marked and rapid reductions in mortality from diabetes and coronary heart disease were observed in Cuba after the profound economic crisis of the early 1990s.  These trends were associated with the declining capacity of the Cuban economy to assure food and mass transportation in the aftermath of the dissolution of the former Soviet Union and the tightening of the US embargo.  Severe shortages of food and gas resulted in a widespread decline in dietary energy intake and increase in energy expenditure mainly through walking and cycling as alternatives to mechanized transportation.  The results highlight the need for diet changes to happen involving the whole population”
Professor Manuel Franco, University of Alcalá, Madrid

“This is powerful evidence that a reduction in overweight and obesity would have major population-wide benefits.  To achieve this is perhaps the major public health and societal challenge of the century.  Medical treatment of people at high risk for disease will have limited impact on mortality rates if the primary causes of disease are not dealt with, and reviews agree that solutions will require multi-sectoral approaches”
Walter C Willett, professor and chair department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

In the 1990s the USSR collapsed, so Cuba went through a very tough economic period from 1991-1995.  This meant there were nationwide food and petrol shortages.  People were forced to eat less, to go back to their traditional ‘local vegetation’ diets, and to walk everywhere again.  Cuba has excellent national health data, so researchers were able to track what happened to the weight, disease and death rates from coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes from 1980-2010.

How did the forced ‘lack of food and petrol’ impact on the health of the nation?

It was immediate, staggering and life-saving. 

  • The preventable modern lifestyle diseases that had been ravaging Cuba all started falling
  • Deaths from diabetes dropped by 50%
  • Deaths from heart disease dropped by 34%
  • There was an average weight-loss of 5.5kg
  • The Cuban government imported 1.5 million bicycles from 1991-1995  

Posted: Wednesday 5 March 2014