When people learn they have enough cardiovascular disease risk to start treatment with a statin or antihypertensive drug, the impact on their healthy-lifestyle choices seems to often be a wash, based on findings from more than 40,000 Finland residents followed for at least 4 years after starting their primary-prevention regimen.
“Patients’ awareness of their risk factors alone seems not to be effective in improving health behaviors,” wrote Maarit J. Korhonen, PhD, and associates in a report published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
“Initiation of antihypertensive or statin therapy appears to be associated with lifestyle changes, some positive and others negative,” wrote Dr. Korhonen, a pharmacoepidemiologist at the University of Turku (Finland), and associates. This was the first reported study to assess a large-scale and prospectively followed cohort to look for associations between the use of medicines that prevent cardiovascular disease (CVD) and lifestyle changes. Most previous studies of these associations “have been cross sectional and provide no information on potential lifestyle changes during the time window around the initiation of medication use,” they added.
The new study specifically found that, on average, people who began treatment with at least one CVD-prevention medication for the first time were more likely to gain weight and more likely to become less active during the years following their treatment onset. But at the same time, these patients were also more likely to either quit or cut down on their smoking and alcohol consumption, the researchers found.
Their analysis used data from 41,225 people enrolled in the Finnish Public Sector Study, which prospectively began collecting data on a large number of Finland residents in the 1990s. They specifically focused on 81,772 completed questionnaires – collected at 4-year intervals – from people who completed at least two consecutive rounds of the survey during 2000-2013, and who were also at least 40 years old and free of prevalent CVD at the time of their first survey. The participants averaged nearly 53 years of age at their first survey, and 84% were women.
The researchers subdivided the survey responses into 8,837 (11%) people who began a statin, antihypertensive drug, or both during their participation; 26,914 (33%) already on a statin or antihypertensive drug when they completed their first questionnaire; and 46,021 response sets (56%) from people who never began treatment with either drug class. People who initiated a relevant drug began a median of 1.7 years following completion of their first survey, and a median of 2.4 years before their next survey. During follow-up, about 2% of all participants became newly diagnosed with some form of CVD.
The results showed that, after full adjustment for possible confounders, the mean increase in body mass index was larger among those who initiated a CVD-prevention drug, compared with those who did not. Among participants who were obese at entry, those who started a CVD drug had a statistically significant 37% increased rate of remaining obese, compared with those not starting these drugs. Among those who were not obese at baseline, those who began a CVD prevention drug had a statistically significant 82%% higher rate of becoming obese, compared with those not on a CVD-prevention drug. In addition, average daily energy expenditure, a measure of physical activity, showed a statistically significant decline among those who started a CVD drug, compared with those who did not. In contrast, CVD drug initiators had an average 1.85 gram/week decline in alcohol intake, compared with noninitiators, and those who were current smokers at the first survey and then started a CVD drug had a 26% relative drop in their smoking prevalence, compared with those who did not start a CVD drug, both statistically significant differences.
The findings suggest that “patients’ awareness of their risk factors alone seems not to be effective in improving health behaviors,” the authors concluded. “This means that expansion of pharmacologic interventions toward populations at low CVD risk may not necessarily lead to expected benefits at the population level.”
The study received no commercial funding. Dr. Korhonen had no disclosures.
SOURCE: Korhonen MJ et al. J Am Heart Assoc. 2020 Feb 5. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.119.014.168.