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Health Rises as Economy Falls

Filed Under: Announcements & News at 1:28 pm | By: Susan Coyle, Senior Editor
CubaIn 1989, Cuba’s economy plummeted. The country was thrown into a crisis that lasted well into the 1990s. It was forced to reform its policies on tourism, trade and foreign investment to compensate for the nation’s monetary loss. Eventually, the economy recovered. The shortages that plagued Cuba’s citizens for years lessened. The period was documented in history books, to be used not only as a record of suffering but as a way for others to learn.  And learn they have. However, not in the way you would think. Currently, it is not economists and social historians who are captivated by Cuba’s not-so-distant past. It is nutritionists.

Researchers recently examined Cuba’s national statistics from 1980 to 2005, examining mortality, obesity and disease rates.  They found that the economic crisis was a source both of bad and good health. As was expected, death among the elderly, degenerative nerve damage and nutritional deficiency rose. But surprisingly, overall mortality rates, obesity, and deaths from coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes fell. Why? With no money and limited food supplies, the average calorie intake dropped from 2,899 in 1989 to 1,863 in 2002. Public transportation and private cars were abandoned in favor of walking and biking. Cuba became fit

What does this mean for us, a country overrun by poor health?

Clearly, we should hope that our country is soon plagued by a catastrophic economic crisis . . . or not. The findings aren’t meant to imply that the only way the United States can fight obesity and heart disease is with nationwide deprivation. Instead, they are meant to encourage a population-wide plan. Changes to a country can and do influence the individual citizens. Developing a large, long-term alteration could effectively help fight obesity, one of the worst epidemics in the country.

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