December 17, 2016
If the term “in moderation” contains real wisdom, the poster child for this enduring adage would be as it applies to human alcohol consumption.
There’s obviously tremendous pleasure, individual culture, history and taste that’s richly associated with alcoholic beverages, from spirits (and liqueurs) to beer and wine and other fermented drinks.
In Russia, for many decades, the alcohol of choice has been the hard stuff, vodka in particular. As a result the average mortality rate for men (the principal imbibers) due to alcoholism had been 12 years shorter than their American counterpart. According to a recent Kellogg School of Management report, based on research conducted by Lorenz Kueng and Evgeny Yakovlev, the Russian male mortality rate has improved dramatically in recent years.
Why? The Kellogg research points to then president Mikhail Gorbachev who enacted specific public policies in 1985 to discourage Russian drinking. Gorbachev dramatically increased the tax on vodka and wine, and less so on beer. He increased the penalties for public drunkenness and closed the bars at an earlier hour. Though these restrictions lasted only a few years until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, they produced surprisingly positive results that have endured over time.
What’s surprising in the findings of this research is how these temporary policy changes produced a dramatic positive impact of mortality rates decades later.
In this case, the preference for drinking hard alcohol was effectively diverted into a less potent substitute, beer. When Gorbachov increased prices significantly on vodka, an increased number of younger Russian drinkers (16-22 years in age) developed an alternative taste for beer instead. This generation is now beginning to enter later life and are being seen as less prone to alcoholism and thus their mortality rates are rising in about a third of this population. Simply put, an increasing number are living longer and are healthier because they drink beer instead of vodka.
The importance of effective public policy upon public health outcomes is undeniable. This report highlights one small example of how an effort to curb over-drinking led to behavioral changes with lasting positive effects.
It also touches upon another fact. The marketers may well be ahead of the scientists in understanding how our individual preferences and tastes develop early in life and may— for better or for worse— last a lifetime.
Read the article from Kellogg Insight: How Drinking Beer Is Saving Russian Lives