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Russians drinking selves to death, research says

Russians are drinking themselves to death at a rate - and in a manner - rarely seen in any society, a team of Russian, British and French researchers said Tuesday.

Their findings, released at a conference here, were the latest in a sobering series of scientific and medical findings about Russian mortality to be issued this year. But researchers said they also found some signs of hope in recent data showing a sharp rise in Russian life expectancy.The latest reports differed from previous findings in the emphasis they put on alcohol - and binge drinking in particular - as the primary cause of a shocking decline in life expectancy in Russia in the early 1990s.

That decline, particularly among men, "is the steepest and most severe ever documented anywhere in the world," said researcher David Leon of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

"Taking Russian mortality rates as they are today, a man aged 20 has only just above a 1 in 2 chance of surviving to age 60, while in countries such as Britain or France nearly nine out of 10 men aged 20 will be expected to survive to 60 years," he added.

Leon and his British colleagues teamed up with Russia's Center of Demography and Human Ecology and France's National Institute for Demographic Studies to issue a sheaf of reports at the conference on Tuesday.

There is nothing new in the notion that a love of alcohol - especially vodka - is at the root of many social problems in Russia, and drinking has obviously played a significant role in public health.

Russian health has been gradually declining since the mid-1960s, and researchers have laid blame on a web of factors, including alcohol and tobacco consumption and a declining health-care system.

The researchers said they found that deaths from heart disease in Russia are higher on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays than on other days of the week, suggesting that people are dropping dead after weekend binges.