Obesity

A Pill a Day Keeps the Doctor Away?

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pill man

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."

NEXT: Sweet Childers of Mine

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  1. One doctor, at least, saw a “silver lining”: “People are receiving treatment which can prevent more serious health problems down the road.”

    Thank goodness something good might come from people taking all of these drugs!

  2. We need to identify anything that is overused and ban it. This will let people maintain their human dignity. This is what the bioethicists demand, and they are the experts, who are we to disagree with them.

  3. This is because the evil drug companies are pushing this on us, all drugs should be free, it is wrong for them to make windfalls of monet on disease.

  4. I meant money

  5. Even at reason I will probably get chastised for this comment, but here goes anyway.

    Human evolution used to be a genetic survival of the fitness, only those with good healthy genes were able to survive and reproduce. Now with all of the new meds keeping people alive whom wouldn’t have survived to reproduce 1000 years ago we as a species are bound to get more frail. In 20 or 30 generations I think we could all be on meds from birth, just to stay alive.

    Don’t get me wrong medicine is a great thing, I am just trying to point out the not so obvious down side.

  6. Susan, I believe we can invoke RC’z Law. Given what drug companies make, I have little doubt that their offices are decorated with impressionist masterpieces. “Windfalls of Monet” it is!

  7. Gimme an A!

    Gimmee an R!

    Gimme a U!

    Gimme a G!

    Gimme an S!

    What’s that spell?

    What’s that spell!?!

  8. In 20 or 30 generations I think we could all be on meds from birth, just to stay alive.

    ..or we could be brains inside of robots…didn’t think of that did you?

  9. I will soon be Ascending, much like Daniel Jackson, so these trivial concerns are beneath me.

  10. In 20 or 30 generations I think we could all be on meds from birth, just to stay alive.

    ..or we could be brains inside of robots…didn’t think of that did you?

    [Time: The Future. Place: A City Park. A robot creeks slowly along the path while smaller “child” robots frolic on the grass.]

    (Voice over)

    If you suffer from the aches and pains that come from centuries of mechanical wear and tear, ask your biomechanic today if Lubrix? is right for you.

    (Voice over, half volume, triple speed)

    Lubrix? should not be taken by pregnant or nursing robots or robots that may soon become pregnant. Side effects include grinding gears, smoking solenoids, frazzled capacitors and possible anal oil leakage.

  11. Living longer is a selfish thing to do as it increases a person’s carbon footprint.

    Here’s hoping that enviro-whacko’s do the honorable thing and quit taking their meds.

  12. Here’s hoping that enviro-whacko’s do the honorable thing and quit taking their meds.

    It would be for the greater good

  13. Somebody announced something. Let the hand-wringing commence!

  14. The issue, to me, isn’t that people are using more and more pharmaceuticals, it’s that people think that pharmaceuticals are a replacement for healthy living and that somehow, they can live unhealthy lives and pop a pill that will make it all better.

    That’s delusional. Sure you can take a pill to alter some negative symptoms, but in many cases people trade in one symptom for another ( I don’t know too many pills that have ZERO side effects). Sure, the original symptom may be more severe and dangerous than the side effects (or the side effects might be worse, but less probable) — but the reality is that thinking that by magically popping some pills all that ails you is going to go away you aren’t really improving your health.

    The only way to really improve your health is to live a healthier lifestyle ( eat better, exercise more, reduce stress etc)

    I also think that people are being (mis)diagnosed with “diseases” much more frequently than they should and some of these “diseases” are a bit hokey (uhmm restless leg syndrome??).

    Not that anything can or should be done about it. People need to decide for themselves how they want to live their lives, and what they will accept.

    I’ve always considered pharmaceuticals as temporary assistance to alleviate a short term problem. Personally, if I had to take a regimen of drugs to keep me healthy every day, I would probably pause and re-evaluate my lifestyle. Granted, for some people there isn’t much they can do and do in fact need to take something consistently to alleviate their ailment, but I am reluctant to believe that everyone taking chronic medication falls into that group.

  15. CHICAGO TOM,

    Full Disclosure: I have Epilepsy … not the fun kind. I take a so-called regimen of drugs every day. It’s four pills, two separate drugs. Without these, I would not be able to leave the house. This is not some example of a delusion, or cognitive dissonance, or simple “unhealthy living” as you might believe. This is a serious neurological disorder confirmed by a barrage of scans and other tests. Having seizures means you cannot drive a car for five months by California law since your last one and in LA that’s all but house arrest. In addition to this, you never know when you might just take a spill and crack your head open on a staircase.

    I’m not asking for the violins here. On the contrary. I’m taking some evil scary pills (unnecessary as many might say) that are confirmed to block the surges that cause these seizures. They work, have no side effects (at least not for me), and I can get them for very cheap at the big bad corporate chain stores. To someone with a real serious chronic disorder all this New Age bullshit is not only irrational, but it’s offensive. Should I give up the pharms and try homeopaths or yoga, maybe macrobiotic foods. If you’re gonna try to tell me epilepsy was all due to my lifestyle, I’ve got a bridge to sell you Pal.

  16. Susan | May 14, 2008, 11:39am | #
    I meant money

    No worries. I doubt people read your post long enough to catch it…

  17. “People are receiving treatment which can prevent more serious health problems down the road.”

    Wasn’t this the “conservative” justification for the Medicare Part D plan?

    uhmm restless leg syndrome??

    Wasn’t this a Seinfeld skit?

  18. There’s no doubt Americans have brought many cases of diabetes and hypertension on themselves by being lazy fatties

    Is that the standard Libertarian line now, that Americans are unhealthy because they are fat, and fat because they are lazy? Being that Americans work more hours per year than Europeans, shouldn’t they be fatter than us?

  19. Cool Cal,

    I don’t think ChicagoTom was talking about someone in your particular situation.

  20. I, for one, welcome our druggie overlords.

  21. Cool Cal

    I hear you, I take Tegretol for seizures, not my fault. I also take Zocor for cholesterol, which is perhaps slightly me “fault”, though mostly genetic.

  22. To quote ChiTom:

    “Granted, for some people there isn’t much they can do and do in fact need to take something consistently to alleviate their ailment”

  23. Being that Americans work more hours per year than Europeans, shouldn’t they be fatter than us?

    Having been in Germany for awhile, I truly believe that Europeans walk and ride their bikes more than Americans, on average (I could be wrong, though). Americans are definitely NOT lazy, but it seems like if we do live sedentary lifestyles we really take it to the extreme. Or we get too used to convenience or something. I don’t know, but getting some cardio several times a week is a good idea.

  24. I am severely allergic to grass pollen (spring) and ragweed pollen (fall). In the bad old days, I was effectively restricted to sitting next to an air conditioner just to be able to breath. On top of that, I would come down with sinusitus, or bronchitus, or both each allergy season (twice a year).

    Now I take a regime of allergy shots, a prescription nose spray, and several prescription pills. Went more than three years without having to get an antibotic which is a huge improvement.

    That does not even take into account the increased productivity at home and at work because I can breathe normally year round.

    So gimme, gimme, gimme drugs, drugs, and more drugs. Wahoo!

  25. Being that Americans work more hours per year than Europeans, shouldn’t they be fatter than us?

  26. Being that Americans work more hours per year than Europeans, shouldn’t they be fatter than us?

    Art POG give a good answer. The design of our communities makes it much more difficult for people to incorporate physical activity into our daily routines. It has to be something we do in addition to going about our business, as opposed to a part of going about our business. The other half (of the activity end) is that those longer hours spend in cubicles and whatnot leave us with less energy to engage in physical activity, and less time to do so as well.

  27. I’m taking some stuff that may have sexual side effects. How long before the effects kick in? My girl friend said she’s tired of waiting.

  28. joe and artPOG, agreed.

    I think KMW made a tactical error in even admitting that Americans are fat. This causes one to wonder why, and before long you’re comparing societies, considering how societies make important decisions about living arrangements wondering if some societies made better decisions than others.

    From a Libertarian point of view, it’s best to just deny that there is a problem. Something along the lines of “everyone in America is pretty much healthy, some are fat but so what, move along nothing to see here, folks”

  29. “higher rates of antidepressant use, especially among young women.”

    This is certainly a good thing. I mean, imagine if Sylvia Plath had taken those antidepressants, she could have lived much longer and written even more poems . . . wait a minute, wrong example.

    anon,

    Could it be that the development of these drugs is itself an evolutionary adaptation by our species to the sturm and drang of modern life?

  30. More than half of Americans now take prescription meds to treat chronic health problems, according to a new study out today.

    I don’t believe this. Really, I don’t. That seems like an extraordinary claim, and the links don’t actually point to the study itself.

    I wonder, are they including women taking birth-control pills in this total? It’s got to be inflated somehow.

  31. e,

    I think we’re well beyond that point.

    Now, we’re going to seeing them explain why higher obesity-related health problems are a good thing.

  32. Better living through modern pharmaceuticals. Thats basically what every pharma ad implies.

  33. “Being that Americans work more hours per year than Europeans, shouldn’t they be fatter than us?”

    It also depends on which European country you’re talking about. Much of that data relies heavily on the particular EU countries that happen to have fit populations. On the other hand, England has its own “obesity epidemic” (I find that phrase ridiculously hyperbolic), and Eastern Europe has actually surpassed the USA in fatties.

    Put that in your pan and deep fry it!

  34. who writes this drivel? the reason so many americans are on meds is because a large minority actually believe what their television tells them.

    this is not a case of “improved technology” helping people live longer. it’s simply the result of a lot of money funneled into very good marketing campaigns.

  35. Put that in your pan and deep fry it!

    Cool Cal, no European country is near as fat as America, but you are right, England is closer than any other European country.

    That doesn’t avoid the nagging question of why Americans are still the fattest, of course.

    And also, I don’t understand why, given the statistics in the link above, you claim that the data is “relies heavily on the particular EU countries”. ALL the EU countries have lower obesity rates than America.

  36. We live in an amazingly bipolar country, where half the time we are making sure everything we eat is “organically grown” and the other half popping pills made possible by the achievements in chemistry and biology. It’s rather amusing.

    That said, I take a number of drugs every day that prevent me from bleeding to death due to a chronic inflammatory disease. Because of these drugs, I can live an almost completely normal life. This idea that most drugs are being used by people to get away with “bad living” is a crock.

  37. We live in an amazingly bipolar country

    America? Home of organic cigarettes? You don’t say.

  38. Now with all of the new meds keeping people alive whom wouldn’t have survived to reproduce 1000 years ago we as a species are bound to get more frail.

    That’s a fairly simplistic view of evolution, especially since all of our technology (cars, buildings, air conditioning, etc) probably play just as big, if not bigger, role in “weakening” our species. Let’s face it, you wipe out technology now, and the human species is back to about 10 million overnight. I don’t think we should sweat the pharmaceuticals.

  39. “Finland, Germany, Greece, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Malta all have overweight rates which surpass that of the USA”

    This is a direct quote from a study sponsored by the WHO conducted in Brussels. I hadn’t heard this information first from this study, as it was performed in 2007, but I guess my point is that you can argue on and on about who’s fatter. This all has a very ideological subtext, and in the face of raw data such as this, if you’re convicted enough to establish the United States as the avatar of sloth and gluttony, you’ll do it by hook or by crook.

    In the end we will always be the “fattest” even if someday we are physically the sveltest hotties on the planet. This criticism, while substantive to a point, easily transcends logical discussion and too often degenerates to a glorious ad hominum attack.

    ec.europa.eu/health/ph_determinants/life_style/nutrition/documents/iotf_en.pdf

  40. Of course, BMI is another standard that is definitely open to criticism. It is useful, but only to a limited extent. Other biometric data is useful for comparison.

  41. Now, we’re going to seeing them explain why higher obesity-related health problems are a good thing.

    Or we could note that folks in the U.S. government’s “overweight” category live longer than those in the “normal” range.

    Now with all of the new meds keeping people alive whom wouldn’t have survived to reproduce 1000 years ago we as a species are bound to get more frail.

    That only applies to conditions that show up in childhood or early adulthood. Many of the chronic conditions like arthritis and osteoporosis don’t kick in until after the genes for them have been passed on.

    One of the major reasons we’re taking more long-term medications is that we’re living long enough to develop the conditions they treat.

  42. I have long-since embraced my cyborg-hood. I rely on three regular medications, one non-drug supplement, and a CPAP machine to keep my body running as well as it does. I take a few other supplements, but I doubt that any of them are doing much for me.

    I am a cyborg. I prefer it to the alternative.

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