Prescribing statins to more people could have the unintended effect of "widening social inequalities", a new study has claimed. The Independent reports that the cholesterol-lowering drugs have saved 50% more lives among the richest people in the country than among the poorest, researchers from the University of Liverpool found. Why this might be is not known for certain, but previous studies have shown poorer people are less likely to adhere to drug regimes, the authors of the paper said.
Their study analysed the causes of a dramatic fall in heart disease deaths between 2000 and 2007, and found that "population-wide" measures, such as changing diets, had prevented more deaths than statins – and that the drugs impact was far more pronounced in the richest 20 per cent of people than in the poorest 20%.
Dr Martin O'Flaherty, one of the 'authors, said that, while statins could play a part in combatting heart disease, doctors and politicians could be "missing an opportunity" by not focusing on improving the nation's diets. "The issue here is the emphasis. Should we spend that amount of resources on (statins), or on championing the more powerful population level interventions, like reformulating food products, limiting marketing of junk food to kids, and taxing sugary drinks?" "The risk is that any intervention that is aimed at individuals risks widening social inequalities," he said. "You need to have access to the pills, you need to understand what you're doing, you need to be compliant, and it has been observed that adherence tends to be better in more educated, more affluent people."
In total, between 2000 and 2007, 20,400 deaths were prevented because of reductions in blood pressure and cholesterol, the study found. Using mathematical models based on health data, the authors found that population-wide changes, including shifts in diet, prevented 11,200 deaths by bringing down blood pressure and 2,100 deaths by bringing down cholesterol. Statins and other medications meanwhile, prevented 1,800 deaths by lowering blood pressure and 5,300 deaths by lowering cholesterol.
[link url="http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/mass-prescription-of-statins-will-widen-social-inequalities-9996555.html"]Full report in The Independent[/link]
[link url="http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/5/1/e006070.abstract?sid=7224d06b-c961-499a-9080-2e30de3705ee"]British Medical Journal Open abstract[/link]