Kids and Statins: Another Magic Bullet?

The American Academy of Pediatrics' recent proposal that statins can be prescribed for children as young as 8 years old is another sign of a disturbing trend.

Traditionally, a major role of medicine was to protect us from potentially fatal diseases, such as pneumonia, dysentery and tuberculosis.
More recently, medicine seems to be shifting toward protecting us from ourselves. We find it easier to use medical science to offset the consequences of unhealthy behaviors than to change them.
For example, statins have proven successful in lowering LDL cholesterol in adults over 50. More than 36 million people take them every day. However, as LDL levels decline, obesity soars. Why? Many people believe that they no longer need to exercise and watch their diet when taking statins. Americans now spend more than $20 billion a year on them.
When statins are prescribed for children, we may find ourselves on the same path—taking the easy way out by treating the symptoms instead of the cause.
Looking beyond behavior change to treat obesity, people turn to many other remedies. The U.S. weight-loss market (medical and otherwise) continues to expand and is projected to hit $61 billion in 2008.
Bariatric surgeries are becoming more commonplace as well. The number performed annually has grown ten-fold since 1998. Gastric bypass and banding surgeries are predicted to surpass 200,000 in 2008. At an average cost of $30,000 per procedure, spending will reach $6 billion. The growth is sure to continue. Only a small fraction of eligible candidates have been treated and procedures among teenagers are increasing. 
There is nothing inherently wrong with using statins, weight-loss programs and surgery to treat obesity. Many people find them effective and they can save lives. But our culture leads us to take shortcuts. We demand the magic bullet. And medicine is willing and able to provide it at a cost.
As we ask ourselves what our healthcare system is delivering for the enormous sums of money we spend, we should think about what we're asking medicine to do. Should it be curing our ills or compensating for our behavior?
— Tom DeSanto

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