McStatins Happy Meal Would Prevent Heart, Big Mac Attacks: Frustrated Cardiologist

Care for a side of DNA analysis with that?



If, and exactly how, governments should regulate fast food joints has been a much-discussed topic of conversation for decades. And it’s still a largely unresolved matter, which is why one U.K. cardiologist has come up with a “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”-style solution: Fast food restaurants should give away free drugs to help combat heart disease. Meanwhile, as the science of fast, cheap DNA testing advances in leaps and bounds, the U.S. government is pondering a bizarre and icky problem–namely whether or not Joe Public should be allowed access to all of his own DNA data.


The extraordinary suggestion that McDonald’s, Burger King, and other fast food vendors whose products are full of heart health-damaging chemistry should offer free drugs to combat the effects is coming from Dr. Darel Francis. He’s a cardiologist at the Imperial College National Heart and Lung Institute in the U.K. In a paper published in the American Journal of Cardiology, Francis noted that while drugs like statins don’t “cut out all of the unhealthy effects of burgers and fries” and it’s better for your health to avoid fatty foods entirely, it’s better to reduce your risk of heart attack any way possible, and “taking a statin can reduce your risk to more or less the same degree as a fast food meal increases it.”

The suggestion has sparked much controversy, as you’d expect–doctors are criticizing Francis for encouraging a misleading “pills to cure everything” mentality instead of promoting healthy living, for example. But we can’t help but admire the practicality of the notion: People will continue to eat unhealthy food, just as they’ll continue to smoke cigarettes even while the packet is more than half given over to labels telling you how the product is killing you. Regulating the fast food industry is tricky, but forcing them to give free heart drugs away would be relatively easy. The restaurant companies would have to raise funds to support the move by raising their prices, and that would have an upshot of reducing the appeal to many potential buyers.

Will we see this happening anytime soon? Don’t hold your horses. But 10 years ago it would’ve been hard to predict the kind of widespread public smoking bans we’re seeing now, so maybe in the future you’ll be offered “super-size statins with that?”

DNA Dos and Don’ts


Meanwhile as scientists work out ever faster, simpler and cheaper ways to decode human DNA, the U.S. government is having thoughts about the industry, ArsTechnica reports. The advances in DNA testing mean that relatively soon it may be easy and affordable for anyone to send off a cell sample, and get a full breakdown on their DNA back in the post–after all, it’s already easy to get your life code turned into art. But with this power over your own DNA comes a risk: Misunderstanding the medical implications of discovering you have a defective gene.

Both Congress and the Government Accountability Office have been investigating the direct-to-consumer DNA testing market, and the specter of legislation is apparently hovering. The government’s stance is that more harm than good may come from learning about your own DNA, and as a result you may not be allowed to test it–a move that smacks of censorship at the most personal level imaginable. Some of the difficulty comes from GAO and FDA findings in investigations of DTC DNA companies that revealed scammy behavior, poor information about the potential errors in decoding DNA, and over-promising on the accuracy of results.

The average Joe Public isn’t scientifically educated enough (or mathematically enough, when you’re talking about sophisticated statistics) to fully grasp the information’s implications. As a result, the DTC industry could face strict regulations about how it reports results, and may even be barred from sharing some of the data with the public. It’s all in the public’s best interest, one can easily argue, but regulating whether or not you should be allowed to know something about your own body is unlikely to be a move that’s popular with the voter.

There is another solution though: Improve scientific and math education levels in the U.S., and fast. It’s an increasingly scientific and technical world, and if matters like this are moving out of the realm of science fiction and into daily life as quickly as they seem to be, then surely this is the smartest move?

Pills image via Ragesoss

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About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)