Saltshakers from Home


I have been in Russia now for 3 days and so far one of the coolest events has been the Youth Event: Young People’s Access to Rights. By “youth”, they mean 18-35 years of age. The people at this event were concerned about youth’s access to and ability to exercise all types of rights including education, work, and housing. Youth are disproportionately unemployed and growth wages for them are virtually nonexistent. At the same time, there is a rising cost on food, commodities, and energy.  People attended from all countries in Europe to talk about and come up with solutions. This is not something that we seem to have conversations about in the US particularly for this age group but as they talked about it, I wondered how it would relate to our own issues in the US, especially in regards to youth healthcare access.

 Another interesting note, there was no discussion of gender inequity, or inequity at all, and there was only one female presenter at the event.  When I ask locals here about equity among jobs and wages for men and women, the response has been, “Oh that is not an issue here. Women make the same as a man in jobs and you don’t see many women in the higher up jobs because more Russians want to start a family and be home with their families.” However, when I did my research the facts told a different story….

  • In the 1980’s women’s wages averaged 70% of men’s wages, but in 2000 they averaged only 50%.
  • As wages have risen in traditionally female dominated work sectors, men have entered these sectors and women have left. 
  • The majority of women work in the public sector in jobs such as social services where the wages are less than 60% of the minimum subsistence level.  Although they are working, they are not receiving substantial wages to support themselves and make up a new working category – the “working poor”.

Today we will go into three high schools and talk to principals and teachers. To prepare, I have been doing some research on obesity rates here in Russia. Obesity is a big problem among adults in Russia with 38% of adults overweight or obese. In part because of the recent end of the Soviet Union, Russia has placed emphasis on things such as having enough food, money, and jobs rather than on living a healthy lifestyle. From what I understand there is currently no health education in schools and curriculum is chosen for students all the way through college.

I read an interesting research paper on attempts to lower salt intake because studies have shown that this can lower the risk of developing high blood pressure. City authorities ordered a 50% decrease in the salt in school cafeteria food.  However, children stopped eating at school and then went so far as to bring their own saltshakers from home. Obviously, they need some time to adjust to new and healthier eating habits that are very much outside of social norms in Russia.  Parents worry that their children have food to eat, but they are not as concerned about the quality of that food.  Social prestige comes from money, cars, and expensive homes, not from a healthy lifestyle. While only 10% of Russian children are currently overweight or obese, this number could rapidly increase due to the aforementioned social factors. As we see trends in other countries emphasizing the importance of living a healthy lifestyle, I wonder how long it will be before Russia starts to put more efforts on health education?

Tonight I must say farewell to St. Petersburg and my new friends here as I board an eight hour train to meet Liudmila in her home town of Petrozavodsk where I will spend the majority of my trip.

Sending high fives across the Atlantic,



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