Doctors and academics are increasingly speaking up against patients being given unnecessary medication—such as statins, blood pressure pills and glucose-lowering drugs for type-2 diabetics which have no effect and burn holes in the pockets of the people. They leave many people suffering further, due to side-effects, or cause excess deaths. A Cambridge University study found half of over-65s take at least five drugs a day. Taking up to five drugs a day increased the dangers of premature death by an estimated 47%, researchers warned. Over-prescribing medications is now the third most common cause of death, after heart disease and cancer.
The European Parliament, in Brussels, heard experts talk about such cases of over-prescriptions. Heading the panel was award-winning celebrity British cardiologist Dr Assem Malhotra; accompanying him were: Dr Richard Thompson, personal physician to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth from 1984 to 2005 and past president of the Royal College of Physicians; endocrinologist Dr Carl Heneghan, Oxford University professor of evidence-based medicine; and Dutch diabetes professor at Leiden University Dr Hanno Pijl.
The panellists called for an urgent Europe-wide campaign to reduce the amounts of drugs people are taking. They discussed the need for an inquiry into biased information being issued by Big Pharma on medicines that is harming millions of patients. Between 2009 and 2014, GlaxoSmithKline was charged $13 billion in fines for criminal behaviour which included hiding data on the side-effects of the drugs and manipulating results.
According to Dr Malhotra, poor quality research, influenced by vested interests, has resulted in an epidemic of misinformed doctors and misinformed patients leading to poor clinical outcome. Dr Malhotra further blames an ‘epidemic of misinformation’ over dietary advice which he believes has driven the consumption of refined carbohydrates and added sugars.
Sir Richard Thompson has argued against the use of statins, the cholesterol-lowering drug, which are only effective in people who already have heart disease; yet, millions of people who are not at risk take them. According to a 2014 study of Imperial College, beta-blockers have resulted in 800,000 excess patient deaths in Europe over the past eight years.
Junk Food Advertising and Children’s Health
Children are exposed to twice as much discretionary (unhealthy) food advertising as healthy food advertising, according to Lisa Smithers, associate professor at the University of Adelaide. A new funded research, led by Heart Foundation, shows that junk food ads are shown more frequently on TV when children are watching. The frequency and duration of junk food advertisements is 2.3 times higher each hour than for healthy foods. The research, published in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, also found that children view more than 800 junk food ads each year, if they watch 80 minutes of television per day.
Prof Smither’s team built a TV monitoring system which was believed to be the first of its kind in the world. The team was able to capture an entire year’s worth of television and ads from one free-to-air commercial TV network in South Australia. It is the largest dataset ever used by health researchers for examining food advertising in Australia and, probably, the world. Most research in this area is based on only a few days of data, says Prof Smithers.
Some countries, like Canada and Norway, have banned junk food ads on children’s channels. In France, advertisers are required to publish healthy eating messages when unhealthy foods are advertised. In Australia, all advertising during children’s TV programmes is covered by the Children’s Television Standards but there is also no routine, independent monitoring of children’s exposure to food advertising. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), food marketing influences the types of foods that children prefer to eat, ask their parents for and, ultimately, consume.