“A study of 40,000 patients found of those prescribed [statins or blood pressure pills], 82% were more likely to become obese or increase their body mass index in the next four years”
The Daily Mirror, 6 February 2020
The print version of the Daily Mirror has incorrectly reported the results of new research about lifestyle changes associated with taking statins or blood pressure drugs.
In this study, 7% of the participants who were non-obese before they took statins or blood pressure drugs became obese by the end of the study. This is compared to 4% of participants who did not take any statins or blood pressure drugs during the study.
After adjusting for risk factors, the researchers found that the odds of becoming obese was 82% (or 1.82 times) greater in people who began taking statins or blood pressure drugs compared to those who didn’t take these drugs.
But finding that statins increase the risk of obesity by 82% is not the same as saying that 82% of people were more likely to become obese, as the Mirror reported. As we’ve already noted, that number of participants who became obese over the course of the study was only 7% of the total.
Obesity is a measure of extreme weight, where a person’s body mass index (weight in kilograms/height in metres squared) is more than 30. The researchers also looked at any weight gain and concluded that taking medication during the study was associated with an average increase of half an extra unit of body mass index.
As highlighted by some experts in this field of research, this study cannot be used to prove that statins or blood pressure drugs cause weight gain. The reasons why patients were prescribed the preventative medication was not accounted for in the study. These, and other unmeasured factors, may explain why participants who were prescribed drugs were more likely to gain weight.
In addition, as acknowledged in the paper, the findings cannot be applied to the wider population in Finland where the study was conducted (or the UK). This study recruited people who worked in the public sector and participants were mostly white, female and over 50 years old.