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‘We are running a massive drug trial on fat children’

American paediatricians are currently recommending wider cholesterol screening for children and more aggressive use of cholesterol-lowering drugs, starting as early as the age of 8.

And when I say American paediatricians, I don’t mean a handful of doctors with shares in drug companies that specialise in drugs that lower cholesterol.

Guidelines outlining the strategy were issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics earlier this month. And from the point of view of American paediatricians, this is not radical stuff. Previously they were recommending statins for kids over 10 who had failed to lose weight over 6–12 months. Now, the theory is that the risk of heart disease emerges in obese children at an early age and according to an eminent doctor: ‘The risk of giving statins at a lower age is less than the benefit you’re going to get out of it.’

A few years down the line the western world will have given up entirely on trying to get people to stop eating lard cake
and kebabs. We might want to put the statins straight in the water. Or maybe to save time we could just slip statins into thick milkshake and burger meals, or sprinkle them on ice cream, or leave them in a bowl at the bar next to the peanuts so people can help themselves.

Of course there is a logic to giving the appropriate drugs to at-risk communities to reduce heart disease and premature death. It is the logic of science that tells us simply that the information we have demands we give these drugs to kids to help them.

But we don’t actually know what effect statins will have on children. There is no research base yet and we are only going to find out by prescribing them and monitoring the long-term effects. So what we have is a potentially massive drug trial, on fat kids.

Which is all a bit too Doctor Who for me.

I wonder how history will judge that? And I wonder how long it might be before that discussion reaches these shores?

In the meantime, how do we feel about the march towards statins for primary school kids? Are we grateful that drugs exist that will enable us to carry on with the cake festival that is modern life? Are we proud of our ever-developing ability to manipulate our failing bodies (or is that our failing will?) to withstand the rigours of modern life – a modern life that is sedentary, desk-bound and full of biscuits.

Or might we, despite the logic and the science and the capability to make clever drugs for fat kids, despair at the fact
that for all our luxuries, our choices, our freedom and our power, we can’t stop kids from eating rubbish and, as a consequence, we can’t manage to keep them safe?

Want to read more of Mark Radcliffe’s opinions? Just click on the 'more by this author' link at the top of the page.

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