Russians must learn the virtues of good health and resisting alcohol to avert a demographic collapse, President Vladimir Putin's favoured successor Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday ahead of presidential polls.
Medvedev, who currently holds the post of first deputy prime minister, was speaking at a Kremlin meeting three days before a presidential election on Sunday that he is virtually sure to win thanks to Putin's backing.
"What's needed is to promote widely the idea of a healthy lifestyle in society," Medvedev told ministers in a televised meeting.
"It's necessary to implant in the person a responsible attitude to health and in school to study how to resist risk factors like alcohol abuse, narcotic use and smoking," he said.
Since the 1991 Soviet collapse, the world's largest country has seen its population shrivel from 149 million to an estimated 142 million.
Major causes include alcoholism and inefficiency in the health system, experts say.
Medvedev said that through health, education and housing programmes that he had overseen, Russia should be able to halt its population collapse.
"In the coming three to four years it's necessary to achieve stabilisation, then growth in the population," he said.
Sunday's vote is considered a shoo-in for Medvedev, who has never held elected office.
Although he has shied from official campaign events, Russia's state-controlled television has given him wall-to-wall coverage on trips around the country to champion "national projects" in health, housing and education.
The presidential favourite is said to follow his mentor Putin in fondness for sport, being a keen swimmer.