Edmonton Journal, Canada
Anthony Boadle, Reuters
Published: 3:08 am
Cubans remember the 1990s as a time of dire crisis and hunger, but researchers have found that the resulting population-wide weight loss helped reduce deaths from conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
A team from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Loyola University and Cienfuegos, Cuba, studied the crisis triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the Cuban economy shrunk by 40 per cent in four years.
Fuel shortages meant Cubans had to give up cars and use Chinese-made bicycles to get around, while their calorie intake plummeted from an average 2,900 a day in 1988 to 1,863 in 1993.
The result was a decline in obesity, and also in the number of deaths attributed to diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke, according to the study in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
Between 1997-2002, deaths caused by diabetes declined by 51 per cent, coronary heart disease mortality dropped 35 per cent and stroke mortality by 20 per cent.
Cubans are still traumatized by the hunger they lived through in the early 1990s, sometimes joking that stray animals vanished from the streets of Havana because people ate them.
To this day, food is the main topic of conversation for Cubans, even though their calorie consumption is back up to international levels and obesity is making a comeback.
In 1987, 30 per cent of Havana residents were classed as physically active. But by 1995, that figure had risen to 70 per cent due to the widespread use of bicycles and walking.
JG: People who will defend their right to be free of foreign domination can never be starved into submission.