Obesity Appears to Contribute to Increasing Use of Prescription Drugs

Prescription drug use in the United States increased by 8% over a 10 year period, and users of 5 or more prescription drugs almost doubled. Increases in prescriptions for specific agents appears to reflect the growing need for treatment of complications associated with the increase in overweight and obesity.

The findings come from a study of trends in prescription drug use among adults living in the US published in the 3 November issue of JAMA. Epidemiologist Elizabeth D. Kantor et al collected the data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), evaluating prescription drug use by almost 38,000 non-institutionalized US adults.

Kantor et al found that 8 of the 10 most commonly used drugs in 2011–2012 are used to treat components of the cardio-metabolic syndrome, including hypertension, diabetes, and dyslipidemia. Another is a proton-pump inhibitor used for gastroesophageal reflux—highly prevalent among individuals who are overweight or obese.

“This might raise the question of how much of this increase in prescription drug use might be attributable to obesity, as we know that the prevalence of obesity has increased among adults in the United States,” Kantor told NPR.

The study also shows a rising number of people are taking multiple meds. “When we’re starting to see more and more adults using 5 or more drugs, it does raise a concern about the potential for drug interaction,” Kantor said.

Kantor’s team analyzed data from the NHANES to compare prescription drug use in the years 1999–2000 vs 2011–2012. In that survey, researchers interviewed people in their homes about which prescription medications they had taken in the previous 30 days. Interviewers asked the participants to show them the product medication’s container.

They reported an increase in overall use of prescription drugs among US adults from 51% in 1999–2000 to 59% in 2011-2012 (difference, 8%; 95% confidence interval, 3.8%-12%; P for trend <.001). The prevalence of use of ≥5 prescription drug increased from an estimated 8.2% in 1999–2000 to 15% in 2011–2012 (difference, 6.6%; 95% confidence interval, 4.4%-8.2%; P for trend <.001).

Kantor et al also observed significant increases in use of prescription muscle relaxants and anti-depressants.

Further analyses are needed to determine whether body mass index is associated with prescription drug use.

NPR reported that another survey found that spending on medicines increased by 10.3%, to $374 billion in 2014 from 2013, according to IMS Health, a Connecticut-based healthcare industry information company.

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