An evaluation of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 1988–2012 showed an increase in medication use among older individuals across all body mass index (BMI) classes. The findings were published online in PLOS One.

Researchers aimed to determine whether the rise in prescription drug use over time varied by age and obesity status. They interviewed a total of 105,910 individuals aged ≥18 years, of which 57,543 were included for the final analysis. Study participants who responded “yes” to taking prescription drugs over the past 30 days were asked to show the containers of the medication; if unavailable, they provided medication names. 

The data showed higher medication use over time was observed in older individuals across all BMI types. The most prominent increase, however, was seen in obese individuals (P<0.001). Older males (aged ≥65 years) who were obese, for example, took 3.1 more medications between the survey years vs. 1.5 for older males who were normal weight. 

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For males, the likelihood of taking antihypertensives, lipid-lowering drugs, antidiabetics, and antidepressants rose with age, time, and BMI; the association between age and medication use was more prominent over time (P<0.05). For females, the likelihood of taking antihypertensives and antidiabetics increased with BMI over time (P>0.05). The odds of taking antibiotics over time were both decreased in men and women. 

Both younger and older men were less likely to use analgesics after 2003–2004 with a greater decrease seen in older men. For women, use of analgesics remained consistent over time in younger and older women. In addition, there was a decrease in sex hormone use over time in older women, likely due to “increased awareness of the increased risk of coronary heart disease, breast cancer, and stroke.”

Study authors were able to conclude that older age “may be driving the increases in medication use over time.” The higher odds of taking cardiometabolic medications over time did not generally differ between men (with or without obesity) with the increases seen in older women. “Our findings suggest that although there have been improvements in treating chronic conditions with medications, disparities by obesity status may continue to exist.” More studies may be needed to evaluate accessibility and barriers to prescription drug use across different patient groups, they concluded.

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