An interesting OpEd in The Washington Post considers the health benefits that have accrued in eastern Europe since the Iron Curtain rusted through. In Poland, rates of smoking, cardiovascular disease and alcoholism have all plummetted (despite the presence of western product marketing), private gyms have sprung up and access to abundant year-round supplies of fruit and vegetables has radically changed diet – for the better. Similar outcomes are being reported in Hungary and the Czech Republic but not so in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, where health stats have apparently worsened since the late 80’s. Russia for instance has a rapidly worsening AIDS crisis while Poland has one of the lowest rates of new infections in Europe. Why the divergence?
“Witold Zatonski a Warsaw-based epidemiologist who has spent decades studying, and crusading for, public health in Poland and its near neighbors, has boiled his answer down to a simple slogan: “Democracy is healthier.” “It’s the only way to explain what has happened,” he said during a recent visit to Washington. “It turns out that the free-market economy and a free political debate correlate directly with good health in Eastern and Central Europe.”
That conclusion used to be doubted by some of Zatonski’s colleagues, both in Poland and in the West. After all, democracy brought Poland freedom for cigarette and alcohol advertising, Western brands, and a parliament presumably susceptible to special interests. Tobacco companies spent $100 million a year on marketing to Poles in the 1990s.
Remarkably, though, all that money and influence have been outweighed by the other products of a free society, especially independent civic organizations and media that promote knowledge and open debate about health issues.”
I fear that they are yet to encounter widespread uptake of anti-depressants, body image inadequacy and the crisis in masculinity but let the Poles celebrate (with unfermented beetroot juice preferably) while they may!