What If a Whole Country Goes on a Diet?

After reminding us that “one should interpret anything about Cuba, or coming out of Cuban data, with extreme caution,” Tyler Cowen links to this BMJ study and this discussion by Richard Schiffman:

The apparent cause:

[D]uring the period of the economic crisis [first half of the 1990s]…Cubans, who were walking and bicycling more after their public transportation system collapsed, and eating less (energy intake plunged from about 3,000 calories per day to anywhere between 1,400 and 2,400, and protein consumption dropped by 40 percent). They lost an average of 12 pounds.

The apparent effect:

[D]eaths from cardiovascular disease and adult-onset type 2 diabetes fell by a third and a half, respectively. Strokes declined more modestly, and overall mortality rates went down.

Then, a reversal:

This enforced fitness regime lasted only until the Cuban economy began to recover in the second half of the 1990s…Eventually people in Cuba were eating even more than they had before the crash…”by 2011, the Cuban population has regained enough weight to almost triple the obesity rates of 1995.”

Comments (11)

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  1. Gabriel Odom says:

    I’m sure death rates from cardiovascular disease and adult-onset type 2 diabetes are really low in the Sudan and North Korea as well.

  2. Ryan says:

    Little surprise about these results. People were essentially forced to walk/bike more due to lack of public transportation and distances in Cuba are more manageable. If that happened in the U.S., well, never mind, most places in the U.S. have poor public transportation systems in the first place and distances are usually too long to walk or even bike.

  3. Tom says:

    I wish most people would have the option of walking or biking to work and other places on a daily basis in this country. Unless you live in the middle of the city and work in the middle of the city, your chances of that happening are slim to none. Way too much dependency on automobiles.

  4. Studebaker says:

    This is an interesting natural experiment — one that most of us hope never to have to participate in. It doesn’t surprise me that reducing obesity would reduce mortality. However, I’m a little surprised that there weren’t mote deaths related to malnutrition.

  5. Gabriel Odom says:

    Studebaker: Notice that this study doesn’t show malnutrition deaths, which was kind of the point of my previous comment.

  6. Tom says:

    Malnutrition isn’t and hasn’t really been much of an issue in Cuba. Their customary foods have enough carbs and protein and micro nutrients to prevent malnutrition in most cases, unlike other regimes like North Korea, which depend on foreign supply. The point should be that their obesity rates went down only because they had no other option but to walk and bike more.

  7. Desai says:

    I guess this study tells us that the best way to solve America’s health crisis is by an economic crash followed by major decline in our transportation systems and cars. Or extremely high fuel costs! We might be miserable, but we will be skinny!

  8. Patel says:

    Perhaps we should structure out policies as a nation that makes healthy living an incentive and reward them accordingly.

  9. Kumar says:

    I wonder what kind of policies we should adopt that promote health at a nationwide scale.

  10. Sandeep says:

    You know how we have race to the top for education, may be we should have something similar for health and fitness!

  11. Floccina says:

    Cubans also stopped drinking and smoking a more likely cause than weight loss.