More than half of Americans now take prescription meds to treat chronic health problems, according to a new study out today. The study is being played as bad news, with the wire services quoting doctors proclaiming that "things will get worse instead of getting better" and chalking the problem up to our "couch potato culture."
But digging deeper into the study reveals that much of the increase is the result of good preventive treatment for diseases that were once debilitating or fatal, like the use of allergy medication and steroid treatments to prevent asthma flareups in kids, and higher rates of antidepressant use, especially among young women.
(For more on the latter topic, re-read reason contributor Will Wilkinson's excellent article on whether an epidemic of depressive disorder is sweeping America. Answer: Not really)
There's no doubt Americans have brought many cases of diabetes and hypertension on themselves by being lazy fatties. Chronic medication use is growing fastest among young people, but the real heavywights continue to be the oldsters. Drug use grows steadily because as we live longer the ol' bod just starts to experience wear and tear, as in the case of arthritis.
Plus, we aren't just a nation of unreflective pill poppers: Rates of use for hormone replacements fell by half in 2007 when news broke about potential side effects. People are, at least in many cases, educated consumers of all those meds.
One doctor, at least, saw a "silver lining": "People are receiving treatment which can prevent more serious health problems down the road."