Hungarians Are Not The Only Grave-Diggers


BFP Magazine



Cardio-vascular Health

Hungarian Medical Disaster, Diet

Hungarians Are Not The Only Grave-Diggers

By Dr. W. Gifford Jones

Is there a lesson to be learned from the Hungarian medical disaster? And can it be avoided? By following Hungarian lifestyle habits it's obvious that its citizens were digging their own grave. But they are not the only graveªdiggers, it seems.

Dr. Xavier Coll, is The World Bank's principal public health specialist. During an interview in Washington he described how Hungarians are dying needlessly before their time. Hungary is "the sick man of Europe, he claims. Young people, in particular, should listen carefully to what he says.

Dr. Coll reported that Hungarians live 5 to 10 years less than North Americans and their eastern European neighbours. A number of factors account for this discrepancy.

Diet is a major part of the problem. Traditional Hungarian dishes emphasize fatty, cholesterol laden meats, such as pork and fried products. Add to this liberal amounts of lard as part of the food preparation.

Sour cream is added with abandon in a variety of Hungarian dishes. Hungarians put cream in almost everything. Their food is also loaded with salt, about 4 times higher than recommended daily amounts.

Hungarians also consume very little fiber. In the past they ate rye bread. Now white bread, devoid of fiber, has become a sought after luxury item. By these dietary pitfalls Hungarians put one foot in the grave early in life.

Smoking rates in Hungary are 50 percent higher than in Western Europe. Now 44 percent of Hungarian smoke. And a shocking 60 percent of doctors light up. This places their second foot half way into the grave.

It doesn't take much more to encourage a funeral. A lack of regular exercise is common among Hungarians. Chronic alcoholic drinking does the rest. It's appalling that in a population of 10.3 million there are 845,000 alcoholics!

The result? Hungary has one of the highest rates of cardiovascular disease in the world. This accounts for 50 percent of all deaths in Hungary. It compares with a North American rate of about 35 percent.

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So what can we learn from the Hungarian folly? That a healthy lifestyle can add years to life. But it has to start early in life.

You can't be a sinner for 50 years and then expect doctors and drugs to save your life. God may forgive a sinner at the last moment. But medicine has no loving God.

I find it somewhat amusing that Canadians and the World Bank are rushing off to preach to Hungarians about lifestyle changes. I'm not against helping other nations with their health problems. But we have a huge amount of medical rubbish in our own back yard that requires prompt attention.

North Americans are not too far behind the Hungarians in developing cardiovascular disease. After all one in three North Americans has a heart attack by 60 years of age.

People forget that just a few decades ago coronary heart disease was a rarity. We are all doing something wrong, not just the Hungarians.

During the Korean War autopsies on soldiers killed in combat revealed what was happening to Americans. 77 percent of dead U.S. Marines with an average age of 22 had coronary heart disease (CHD). But CHD was present in only one percent of the enemy.

The message for young people is simple, but few are listening. Study after study shows that they must decrease the amount of fat in the diet, increase the quantity of complex carbohydrates and fiber. And stop consuming huge amounts of sugar.

But it's important that you don't switch from one cardinal sin to another. I hear repeatedly from patients that they're purchasing low fat foods.

But low fat does not always mean low calories. Some of these low fat foods are loaded with sugar. I agree with Dr. Julia Kishegyi, a cardiologist who heads a World Bank©sponsored project, that the cardiovascular scene in Hungary is a catastrophe.

But there are greater medical calamities. A world©wide epidemic of diabetes. For instance, 90 percent of which is due to obesity.

Many indicators should alarm medical consumers about coming disaster. No, not an abnormal electrocardiogram. No, not a high cholesterol. One is a simple test that costs nothing. I'll tell you about it next week.


W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of The Harvard Medical School. He's been a ship's surgeon, hotel physician and family doctor and later trained in surgery at McGill in Montreal, University of Rochester N.Y. and Harvard. His medical column is published by 60 Canadian newspapers and several in the U.S. He is the author of seven books. Dr. Walker has a medical practice in Toronto. His Web site is: www.mydoctor.ca/gifford-jones. He can be reached at bfp@bogotafreeplanet.com

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