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Health Survey of England (2014): 50% of English Women Taking Prescription Drugs

Each year a new Health Survey is conducted throughout England. It takes into account various health conditions and documents the number of individuals that report taking pharmaceutical medications. Results from the latest survey were recently unleashed and showed that 50% of all women and 43% of all men reported taking one prescription drug within the past week.

This shows that an increasing number of individuals are relying on prescription drugs to fix and/or treat various ailments. Even more striking was the statistic that 24% of all women reported taking at least 3 different medications within the past week, with 22% of men taking 3+ drugs. All of the collected statistics from this survey do NOT take into account smoking cessation drugs and birth control pills.

Health Survey for England (2014): Prescription Drug Data

The Health Survey for England is conducted each year to get a better understanding of the country’s general health. It is organized by a team of researchers from the National Center for Social Research for the Health & Social Care Information Center (HSCIC). The latest research takes into account useful medication data from both 2012 and 2013 survey results.

  • Age: As a person ages, the rate of medication usage generally increases. The survey revealed that nearly half (50%) of individuals between ages of 65 and 74 took at least 3 prescribed medications within a week. Of individuals that were 75 and up, nearly 70% of individuals had taken at least 3 pharmaceutical drugs within a week.
  • Antidepressants: Although men are administered a significant number of statins to treat high-cholesterol, antidepressants were taken by a significant number of women. Nearly 11% of women in England were reported to be taken by women, approximately double the rate of men who accounted for 5.5% of usage. Middle-aged women were most likely to take an antidepressant medication with the 45 to 64 age group accounting for 16% of all prescriptions.
  • Cholesterol: For men 65 years or older, nearly 50% were taking medications for cholesterol such as statins. This demonstrates that as English men age, high cholesterol becomes a significant problem. It should be noted that cholesterol medication guidelines had been revised earlier in the year and now include all individuals with a 10% risk of developing heart disease, which may account for a minor increase in the number of statin prescriptions.
  • Obesity (Higher BMI): It was found that individuals with a higher BMI (Body Mass Index) used pharmaceutical drugs to a greater extent than individuals with a lower BMI. Individuals considered medically “obese” reported taking at least one prescribed medicine, and approximately 33% of obese individuals took 3 or more medications. Many of these individuals were reported taking: antidepressants, painkillers, statins, and drugs to lower blood pressure.
  • Socioeconomic status: Oddly enough there were significant differences of antidepressant prescriptions between the rich and the poor. It was found that the richer the individual, the less likely they were to have taken an antidepressant. Only 7% of wealthy women took antidepressants, while 17% of the poorest women were taking these medications. It is known that socioeconomic status is can influence mood, so low income could be partially contributing to the depression. However, it is important not to rule out potential genetic factors, dietary factors, etc. that could distinguish between rich and poor.

Why the differences between wealthy and poor women?

Researchers commented on the fact that it has long been understood that cases of depression are more likely to occur in females as opposed to males. Therefore they weren’t particularly surprised that more women were taking antidepressants than men. They also suggested that the increase in the number of poor women taking antidepressants compared to wealthy ones could be due to various factors such as: employment, quality of life, or the fact that individuals with low income may see their doctor more for other conditions, which allows doctors to also identify the depression. Additionally, it should also be noted that other health conditions such as obesity are highly correlated with having lower income and share strong ties with depression.

Reasons why this survey is beneficial to society

What’s unique about this particular survey is that it’s the first study that reports the usage of prescribed medicines taking by individuals in the general community, not just reports from healthcare clinics. Dr. Jennifer Mindell from the UCL Epidemiology & Public Health was quoted as saying, “That half of men over 65 are taking cholesterol-lowering medicines reflects the high risk of cardiovascular disease in this group.” She went on to suggest alternative lifestyle changes that could offset the need for medicines such as: stopping smoking, losing weight, increasing intake of fruits and vegetables, and exercising.

  • Advising: Advising the general public regarding specific lifestyle changes that can be made to prevent some of the more commonly diagnosed conditions with age. This can also be used to advise the national institute of health regarding awareness that needs to be raised among the general public. For example, if they have funds raising awareness for a condition that is less common, they may want to increase funds for one that is more common.
  • Biotech: My guess is that biotech companies are looking at this data and trying to come up with solutions to some of the major problems. We already know that they are working on developing new antidepressants like NSI-189. They are likely also trying to figure out solutions for high cholesterol, obesity, high blood pressure, etc.
  • Data: The data itself is highly important because it allows us to track the health of the entire population. It helps health committees determine if changes to their campaigns may have been responsible for a shift (increase / decrease) in particular diagnoses. It also reveals the biggest problems for certain demographics.
  • Lifestyle changes: People reading this may be aware that in order to avoid taking pharmaceutical drugs in the future, they may want to make healthier choices. Nearly everyone is capable of making improvement in some area of their health. Whether it involves eating a better diet, getting more exercise, or reducing stress – a majority of people can improve.
  • Pharmaceuticals: From a pharmaceutical perspective, the companies will know what drugs are being most used by a particular population. This is important to them because it helps them tailor their marketing efforts to a particular area and/or develop drugs that may be more beneficial based on current trends.
  • Understanding problems: This survey helps us get a better understanding of what conditions are most common and who they are affecting. It helps specifically understand what is most likely to affect individuals of a particular socioeconomic status, sex, or age in England.

The survey brings awareness to factors such as obesity can contribute significantly to health problems and an increasing need for pharmaceuticals. Co-author (Sue Faulding) of the survey’s report stated, “This study shows that obesity is strongly linked with increased use of prescribed medicines and for the first time allows us to quantify this in a nationally-representative sample.” The prescription data revealed in this survey helps us get a better idea of the types of medications people are taking, the number of medications taken by each individual, as well as differences based on age and socioeconomic status.

However, due to privacy concerns, we are unable to see the specific medications that people are taking. Based on independent reports though, we can likely take educated guesses based on the most prescribed medications of the past year. The survey also confirms preliminary dispensary data that has been collected. Researchers believe that the results from this survey will help advise the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

Symbiotic Relationship Between Health Problems and Pharmaceutical Drugs?

Although most people tend to have various genetic predispositions, life unhealthy lifestyles, etc. which make them more prone to developing certain conditions like high blood pressure, obesity, etc., it is important to consider the opposite relationship. Could the pharmaceutical drugs that a person is taking be contributing to an increasing number of health problems? Sure certain drugs like antidepressants may help alleviate depressive symptoms, but they also are associated with weight gain. (Read: Antidepressants and weight gain).

While people need to take personal responsibility for their own health, on the same token, they need to realize that taking a pharmaceutical medication will inevitably influence their health. Sure they may be treating a certain condition with a medication, but they aren’t aware of the fact that the medication may be creating a functional dependence on that particular drug, while simultaneously creating another health problem as a result of disruption to the body’s homeostatic functions. Most healthcare professionals are quick to point out factors that lead to needing a drug, but they don’t always point out the health problems that these commonly prescribed drugs create.

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