Over-treating and over-diagnosis” is costing the NHS an excess of £15 billion a year according to recent data.
A report by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) showed nearly 50% of people were prescribed medications regularly and that there is an average of 18.7 prescriptions per person in the UK.
Half of women and 43% of men in England are now regularly taking prescription drugs according to the report.
Nearly a third of prescriptions were for cardiovascular disease with more than 65 million prescriptions for tackling high blood pressure, heart failure or cholesterol levels.
Simvastatin – which lowers cholesterol – was the single most prescribed item with 40 million prescriptions.
According to Dr Jennifer Mindell, one of the report’s authors at University College London, believes that in some cases these conditions can be improved by better lifestyle management.
She said: “This is the first nationally-representative study to report on the use of prescribed medicines taken by people in the community, not just those within the healthcare system.
“That half of men over 65 are taking cholesterol-lowering medicines reflects the high risk of cardiovascular disease in this group.
“Stopping smoking, being a healthy weight, eating more vegetables and fruit, and being physically active reduce people’s risk of these diseases, for people who want to avoid taking medicines.”
Sue Faulding, a pharmacist and programme manager of prescribing and primary care services at the HSCIC, added: “Obesity is often associated with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, joint pain and depression.
“Lifestyle changes are always recommended in the first instance, but medicines can help to address the symptoms and this study shows that medicine use increases steadily with body mass index.”