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‘MacStatins’ are not the answer to unhealthy food

By Stephen Daniells+

16-Aug-2010

Do you want a statin with that cheeseburger and milkshake? Touting pharmaceuticals as the neutralisers of fast food is not the answer to unhealthy diets and even the suggestion sends out the wrong message.

Last week, researchers from Imperial College London published a study in The American Journal of Cardiology with the conclusion that handing out statins with a cheeseburger could neutralise the detrimental effects of daily fast food consumption.

Do we really want to give some people carte blanche to eat fast food in excess?

The authors, led by Dr Darrel Francis, emphasize that they are not encouraging people to eat unhealthily, but argue that, since many people fail to follow a healthy lifestyle, a ‘MacStatin’ may provide protection against heart disease.

Not only that, but statins would only add an extra 5p per customer onto the cost of the meal!

If it’s all about neutralising the cholesterol, and particularly LDL-cholesterol, how about we formulate the accompanying milkshake with omega-3 and phytosterols? I’m not suggesting we do this, but I think we should look to add food ingredients to food before pharmaceuticals.

Beyond cholesterol

But to focus on the ‘bad’ fats in fast food is short-sighted. Indeed, the British Heart Foundation (which financially supports Dr Francis) was quick to state that the suggestion should not be taken literally.

“A junk food diet has a wealth of unhealthy consequences beyond raising cholesterol. It can cause high blood pressure through too much salt, or obesity through eating meals loaded with calories. These are all risk factors for life-threatening health problems such as heart disease, type-2 diabetes and stroke,” said the BHF’s Professor Peter Weissberg.

The easy road

Handing out a pill appears easier than facing up to the two main problems here: Educational (why are we not teaching nutrition in schools?) and financial (why do fresh broccoli and wholegrain bread cost more than a cheeseburger?).

A little over a year ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) made similar noises when it announced recommendations to prescribe cholesterol-lowering statin drugs to obese children as young as eight.

Are we really at the point where we give up and just hand out drugs?

I do agree with Dr Francis and his co-workers on the following statement: “We stress that there should be greater pressure on fast food corporations to develop healthier menus and to encourage regular physical activity and weight control.”

The food and nutrition industries are producing a growing range of healthy foods, and fast food outlets are improving their menus – they do still have the old favourites, but they are making progress. Of course more could be done, but we’re heading in the right direction.

I also have a couple of questions on the implications of the health claims regulation. Is the regulation really helping the situation by neutering the food industry on what can and cannot be said on healthy foods? Is it dissuading the food industry from pursuing healthy foods because they fear failure when it comes to making claims? If the science to support such claims is not there, then this rightly will be stopped and the consumer protected, but we are seeing some eyebrow-raising opinions from our friends at EFSA.

Where we can make a big impact is to educate consumers about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and this has to start early. Prescribing obese eight-year olds statins is not sending out the right message.

My order of the day is super-sized nutrition education. Hold the statins.

Stephen Daniells is the senior editor for NutraIngredients-USA.com and FoodNavigator-USA.com. He has a PhD in chemistry from Queen's University Belfast and has worked in research in the Netherlands and France.

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