Does taking medication encourage an unhealthy lifestyle? Patients often use drugs as an excuse to continue bad habits, study suggests

The two most commonly prescribed medicines are blood pressure pills and cholesterol-lowering statins — for which there are seven million prescriptions alone every year in the UK. But research has uncovered a worrying trend.  Many people are using their pills to continue bad habits that may contribute to high blood pressure and cholesterol, rather than improving their diet or increasing their exercise levels. Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the report found people classed as at risk of heart attack or stroke who took blood pressure or cholesterol medication were more likely to gain weight and exercise less compared to those not on medication. The study tracked 40,000 people over 13 years and found that, of those taking pills for blood pressure and statins for high cholesterol, 8 per cent were more likely to have become physically inactive than those not taking anything.  The pill-takers were also 82 per cent more likely to have become obese or have an increased body mass index. 'Medication shouldn't be viewed as a free pass to continue or start an unhealthy lifestyle,' says study leader Dr Maarit Korhonen, a senior researcher at the University of Turku in Finland. Malcolm McGregor has lost most sight in one eye and needs a wheelchair to travel any great distance because, he says, he thought his daily medication — metformin and gliclazide for type 2 diabetes, cholesterol-lowering statins, blood pressure pills and aspirin — would make up for his unhealthy lifestyle. The retired broadcast engineer, 77, who lives in Newbury, Berkshire, with his wife Susan, 71, says: 'I had been on so many pills for years. He worked long hours and grabbed fast food 'often at 2am, mainly curries and Chinese takeaways. 'I didn't realise that I was putting myself at risk of complications as my blood sugar was still uncontrolled and very high, mainly because of my poor diet choices and lack of exercise. 'Sedentary lifestyles don't just impact physical health, they affect mental capacity, too,' says William Higham, a behavioural futurist.  'Researchers at Liverpool John Moores University found evidence that sitting for long periods of time can reduce blood flow to the brain,' he explains.  'That can slow brain functioning and increase the likelihood of developing neurological disorders such as dementia.' 'I later needed an additional diabetes drug called gliclazide, as the metformin wasn't controlling my blood sugar enough.' 'This was crunch time when it finally hit me that taking pills was not enough, and I needed to change my lifestyle. Malcolm then heard about a Warwick University research project into how a low-carbohydrate diet could help those with type 2 diabetes. He signed up for an online programme of dietary advice, which involved restricting his carbohydrate intake to 30g a day. As a result, he has lost 4st 6lb; his blood pressure is down from 170/70 to a healthy 116/59; his total cholesterol is now 2.9; and his HbA1c is 45 — just above 'normal', meaning his diabetes is almost in remission. Mike Dixon, a GP in Cullompton, Devon, is chair of the College of Medicine, a group of doctors who champion lifestyle change and advocate 'social prescription' over pills and medical procedures. He says it's all too easy for patients and doctors to rely solely on pills for reducing blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.  'Every day we'll see patients in general practice who are overweight with these health problems, but who continue smoking, eating an unhealthy diet and taking no exercise,' he says. Thread ends through like usual laces — but these are secured individually into each eyelet.  Once attached, they do not need repeated tying. 'We know the pills work quickly — and our payment system is geared to getting patients to certain targets, so there is an incentive to prescribe instead.' 'Telling someone who is stressed and overweight to lose weight is as much use as a chocolate teapot,' says Dr Bird. 'But when you become active visceral fat and associated inflammation decreases and hopefully weight loss and other improvements in health will follow.'