While an economic crisis results in untold
misery for countries and their people, a new study of health in Cuba has suggested there could be a silver lining during lean times.
Researchers appear to have implied that people can lose weight during a recession due to a reduction
in eating and increasing physical activity.
Their dramatic findings, published online in the British Medical Journal, were based on a study in Cuba, where the population suffered food and fuel shortages following the economic crisis of the early 1990s triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union.
This resulted in an average of 4 to 5kg (8 to 11 lbs) being shed by the people and subsequent rapid declines in deaths from diabetes and coronary heart disease.
The scientists from the University of Alcalá, in Madrid, also discovered that when Cubans put the weight back on, cases of diabetes surged
The researchers concluded that the Cuban crisis could have lessons Britain.
They suggested that an average weight loss of just eleven pounds across the UK could cut deaths from heart disease by a third while the mortality rate of type 2 diabetes, the form of the condition related to obesity, could also be halved.
Whole population trends in food consumption and transport policies linked to physical activity could reduce the burden of two major illnesses, said the researchers.
"During the deepest period of the economic crisis in Cuba, from 1991 to 1995, food was scarce
and access to gas was greatly reduced, virtually eliminating motorised transport and causing the industrial and agricultural sectors to shift to manual intensive labour,” said Prof Manuel Franco, who led the international team of researchers from Spain, Cuba and the United States.
"We found a population-wide loss of 4-5 kg in weight in a relatively healthy population was accompanied by diabetes mortality falling by half and mortality from coronary heart disease falling by a third.
"So far, no country or regional population has successfully reduced the distribution of body mass index or reduced the prevalence
of obesity through public health campaigns or targeted treatment programmes."