Cholesterol-reducing drugs called statins have been in the news lately following the release of a major medical study that found that statins can prevent heart disease and stroke in people with no previous history of heart disease.
Statins are among the biggest-selling family of drugs of all time. Many articles about the study mentioned above, including one on the credible web site WebMD, also mention the specific drug used in the study: Crestor.
The study has generated hundreds of articles, most of which repeat the same basic framing of the issue: if heart disease is the problem, a drug is the answer.
This is the typical framing the public gets from hundreds of news reports about heart disease.
Smoking prevention, known to be tremendously cost-effective in preventing heart disease, is never compared to the cost of a new drug touted as doing the same thing. News stories inevitably fail to compare the merits of tobacco prevention when a new and costly drug is promoted as preventing heart disease.
An Associated Press article titled "Wider cholesterol drug use may save lives," about the big statin study estimated that "treating [all at-risk people] with Crestor would cost $9 billion a year and prevent approximately 30,000 heart attacks, strokes or deaths ... That's pretty costly."
Every dollar spent on tobacco prevention saves $2-3 on health care costs down the line, so $9 billion invested in tobacco prevention could save $18-27 billion in eventual medical costs -- many times more than the cost of preventing heart-related ailments using statins.
The media literacy lesson here is that lifestyle strategies for health get downplayed -- even eliminated entirely -- when drugs are promoted, even if lifestyle changes are still the most cost-effective and least-risky answer.