By Denis Campbell

Fast food outlets could offer free drugs to offset unhealthy effects of their food

British cardiologists propose putting statin pills beside salt and ketchup in order to encourage people to pop one after they eat

McDonald’s, Burger King and other fast food outlets could give diners free drugs to compensate for the increased risk of heart disease caused by eating their products, top British cardiologists propose today.

If burger joints offered cholesterol-lowering statins, customers would offset the unhealthy effects of eating a cheeseburger and milkshake, according to a study carried out at Imperial College London.

The pills could be placed beside the salt, pepper and tomato ketchup in order to encourage as many people as possible to pop one after they have eaten their meal.

The controversial suggestion is made by Dr Darel Francis, a cardiologist at Imperial’s National Heart and Lung Institute, and colleagues in the American Journal of Cardiology.

The idea immediately drew sharp criticism from leading doctors, who said the study could encourage ill-health by prompting even greater consumption of junk food and increasing the belief in “a pill for every ill”.

People keep eating fast food despite knowing that it is bad for them. Given that, said Francis, “It makes sense to make risk-reducing supplements available just as easily as the unhealthy condiments that are provided free of charge. It would cost less then five pence per customer – not much different to a sachet of ketchup.”

But Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, denounced the study. “This paper just amazes me. Let’s get real; we should be encouraging healthy lifestyles, not pill popping.

“This is an unwelcome addition to the ‘pill for every ill’ attitude that’s already much too common. The danger of this research is that some people will become even more complacent about eating fatty food and high calorie food, and might even increase their intake of them.”

While statins are generally safe they can also increase the risk of muscle weakness and also, in rare cases, of kidney failure, cataracts and liver problems, Field added.

Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, warned that “the suggestion that the harmful effects of a junk food meal might be erased by taking a cholesterol-lowering statin tablet should not be taken literally.

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