On September 16th, 1989, Boris Yeltsin, recently elected to the new Soviet parliament and the Supreme Soviet, was on a visit to the United States. Yeltsin had just toured NASA’s mission control and a mock-up of a space station at Johnson Space Center.
According to reporters, it wasn’t NASA’s shiny buttons and high-tech equipment that blew his mind, it was trying free samples of cheese and staring at the frozen food selections inside of a Randall’s grocery store.
Yeltsin and a handful of Soviet companions made an unscheduled 20-minute visit to the supermarket after leaving the Johnson Space Center.
What may seem like an average trip to the store for for an American, was quite different from the mundane shopping experiences of the first President of the Russian Federation. As he roamed the aisles with a wide-eyed gaze, his head nodded in amazement.
Yeltsin was becoming increasingly convinced that the Russian people were being deprived of certain basic qualities of life. He believed Russia had been inherently damaged by its centralized, state-run economic system. People were forced to wait in long lines to buy the most basic necessities and quite often found the shelves absolutely bare. He was overwhelmed by the practically limitless variety of cheeses, meats, and vegetables available to everyday Americans.
According to one of Yeltsin’s associates: “For a long time, on the plane to Miami, he sat motionlessly, his head in his hands. ‘What have they done to our poor people?’ he said after a long silence.” He added, “On his return to Moscow, Yeltsin would confess the pain he had felt after the Houston excursion: the ‘pain for all of us, for our country, so rich, so talented and so exhausted by incessant experiments.”
Yeltsin himself added: “I think we have committed a crime against our people by making their standard of living so incomparably lower than that of the Americans.”
Does having access to innumerable brands and products in grocery stores really improve the American quality of life?
Within this broad spectrum of available foods, and items that barely pass as ‘food’, what are the long-term effects on people’s health.
According to the National Institutes of Health, obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States. An estimated 300,000 deaths per year are due to the obesity epidemic in the U.S.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. The percentage of children aged 6–11 in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012. In 2012, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.
Dr. David S. Ludwig, director of the obesity program at Children’s Hospital Boston said: “Obesity is such that this generation of children could be the first basically in the history of the United States to live less healthful and shorter lives than their parents.”
So are Russians healthier than Americans?
According to a study in 2012 by the Nutrition Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. It stated that over 25 percent of Russians were overweight, 10 percent of children were obese, and 55 percent of Russians carried an unhealthy excess of weight.
The World Health Organization stated in 2012 that in Russia, 80 percent of deaths are caused by a chronic noncommunicable disease. These diseases like heart disease and diabetes, are non-infectious and non-transmissible among other people.
In Russia, the average life expectancy right now of a male at birth is 66 years, and female 70 years, according to data.worldbank.org. The average American life expectancy is 78.8 years.
When Yeltsin stated that the Russian standard of living (regarding food selection) was ‘incomparably lower than that of Americans’. He had no idea that some of the most popular American food choices would be right at his doorstep today. With the influx of western-based fast food chains popping up throughout Russia in the last decade, the health risks related to consuming these types of foods may become more evident in the coming years.