The Times

Rhys Blackley, Tom Whipple

Gerry Gajadharsingh writes:

“One of the risks of some long-term medications is that people think it then relieves them of their individual responsibility for managing their own lifestyle risks, as the research below shows in relation to statins and blood pressure medication.

 The researchers found that those who took the medicines were 82 per cent more likely to become obese or have an increase in BMI.

 It just shows that lifestyle factors and one’s ability to modify them can be as important or sometimes more important than just looking at the easy option of taking the drug.”


Statins and blood pressure medicine may be less effective than thought because people consider them a “free pass” to a less healthy lifestyle, a large study suggests.

Researchers who followed 40,000 people found that those who started taking them were more likely to allow healthy habits to slip.

The Finnish study found that they were more likely to reduce activity levels and gain weight even though they were given the treatments because they were at risk of heart disease and stroke.

The researchers warned against treating drugs as a “free-pass to continue or start an unhealthy lifestyle”.

“Our research sought to determine if people who started medications were making the lifestyle changes necessary to see health benefits,” Maarit J Korhonen, lead author of the study and senior researcher at the University of Turku in Finland, said. Her conclusion, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, was that in some cases they were doing the reverse.

“People starting on medications should be encouraged to continue or start managing their weight, be physically active, manage alcohol consumption and quit smoking,” Dr Korhonen said. She and her colleagues based the findings on an analysis of public-sector workers in Finland, all of whom were at least 40 years old. None had previously had heart disease or stroke diagnosed.

The participants were asked to answer two or more surveys at intervals of four years. Their body-mass index (BMI), physical activity, alcohol consumption and smoking were tracked.

Information was also obtained from pharmacies to determine if those prescribed statins and blood pressure drugs had started taking them.

The researchers found that those who took the medicines were 82 per cent more likely to become obese or have an increase in BMI. They were 8 per cent more likely to become physically inactive. There were signs that they followed some doctors’ orders: they were also 26 per cent more likely to quit smoking.

People can gain weight when they stop smoking. However, this did not explain their increases in BMI: participants who took their medications and stopped smoking gained more weight than those who did not take medications and stopped smoking.

The study joins others that have found that statin users consume more calories and fat. However, other researchers urged caution when interpreting the findings. It could be that putting on weight was what led people to take up the statins.

“The findings are only associations and do not demonstrate that people who start cholesterol or blood pressure medications intentionally became less active or eat poorly,” Riyaz Patel, associate professor and consultant cardiologist at Barts Health NHS Trust, said.

“What we can take from the study is that there is always scope to continue efforts to improve our lifestyle factors, in parallel to taking medications, when trying to lower heart attack and stroke risk.”