Democracy is healthier – health in Poland in the late 1980s and 1990s

Witold A. Zatoński, Mateusz Zatoński

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The collapse of the communist regime in Poland at the end of the 1980s, followed by the opening of the
country to market economy, precipitated a “natural experiment” in population health. Poland emerged
from communism with very poor health indicators, high rates of lung cancer and cardiovascular diseas-
es. In the years immediately following the collapse of communism the situation deteriorated further, as
a surge in alcohol consumption led to a dramatic increase in premature mortality. However, after 1991
the health situation of the Polish population began to improve. Mortality rates began to decline for all
age groups, driven mainly by the decline in cardiovascular disease morbidity and mortality. One reason
for this health improvement can be sought in the 10% decrease in smoking prevalence that took place in
the 1990s, and was stimulated by the implementation of very progressive anti-tobacco legislation. Anoth-
er contributor was the reversal in alcohol consumption trends, with alcohol consumption falling from
11 litres in 1991 to 8.5-9 litres in 1995. However, the chief reason for the rapid improvement in health
were the revolutionary changes in the diet of Poles – the fall in animal fat consumption compensated by
the increase in vegetable fat consumption, and the increase in the consumption of fruits and vegetable.
The resulting increase in life expectancy between 1991 and 2002 among Polish women was the fastest in
Europe, and among Polish men it was the third fastest.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-24
JournalJournal of Health Inequalities
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jul 2016


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