Changing the conversation about health

Many people taking statins and blood pressure tablets view them as a ‘free pass’ to be unhealthy

Statins and blood pressure tablets are being treated as a ‘free pass’ by many people who take them, new research warns.

People taking such medication are 82 per cent more likely to be an unhealthy weight, according to a study of 40,000 people, carried out by the University of Turku in Finland.

Cheat? People taking statins or high blood pressure medication were found to be more likely to be carrying extra weight, according to research by the University of Turku in Finland

Around six million people in the UK currently take statin drugs, which reduce the risk of strokes, while one million take a daily tablet to keep their blood pressure under control.

Statins work by decreasing negative cholesterol and one in 50 people who take them will see their rick of having a heart attack or stroke prevented over a five year period of taking them.

Dr Maarit Korhonen, from Turku University, said people still needed to try and live a healthy lifestyle: ‘Medication shouldn’t be viewed 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.’ 

The drugs are not without side effects, with research suggesting that statins can increase the risk of muscle pain, liver damage and diabetes. Blood pressure pills have also been linked to a higher risk of lung cancer in early research.

The study saw 40,000 Finnish people, who had not been previously diagnosed with heart disease or stroke, record information every four years on their BMI, physical activity, alcohol consumption and smoking history over a period of 13 years.

The findings, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found that while people taking such drugs were likely to cut down nicotine and alcohol consumption, they were also more likely to eat unhealthy food

Pharmacy data was used to determine if they began taking blood pressure or statin medications.

People prescribed either of the two treatments were eight per cent more likely to become physically inactive than those who were not on medication.

They were 82 per cent more likely to put on weight, according to the findings published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

They were, however, 26 per cent more likely to quit smoking and cut back their alcohol consumption to some extent. Both are implicated in heart diseases.

While weight gain following stopping smoking is common, the researchers said this did not explain the BMI increase in the study participants. 

Dr Korhonen said: ‘People starting on medications should be encouraged to continue or start managing their weight, be physically active manage alcohol consumption and quit smoking.’ 

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, last night welcomed the findings.

He said: ‘This study shows that the use of statins and blood pressure-lowering treatment is associated with reduced physical activity and an increase in body weight, but also less smoking in those prescribed these treatments.