Q: The cost of my aunt's medications for blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, osteoporosis and depression sometimes is too much for her to pay, so (I just found this out) she makes choices about which prescriptions to fill, even with Medicare. Any advice on what it makes sense for her to fill or skip? — Jeri F., Franklin, Tenn.
A: She's not alone in finding it hard to afford her medications. The University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging found that 27 percent of folks over age 50 say prescription drug costs impose a difficult financial burden.
In addition, the National Center for Health Statistics found that around 2.4 percent of folks over age 65 skip doses, and 2.7 percent stop taking medications because of cost. Others (as many as 33 percent in some studies) simply delay filling their prescriptions. That means hundreds of thousands of people are putting their health in jeopardy because they just cannot afford their medications.
In the meantime, please talk to your aunt about medication safety. Explain to her that she shouldn't take blood pressure medicine sporadically — that's almost immediately life-threatening! Skipping other meds puts her at increased risk for complications such as heart attack or a bone fracture.
She can talk to her doc about prescribing equally effective but less expensive medications. The survey found that 67 percent of the time, your doc can offer a cheaper alternative, either as a generic version of the med or by using a completely different drug! Your pharmacist also can be a great resource for info on alternatives and pricing. (You can shop around for a pharmacist you really like, too.) And look into mail-order drug plans; they can slash prices.
One more step: Have her primary-care doc review all of her prescriptions to see if they are still necessary. A recent study in Plos One found that the median rate of inappropriate prescriptions was about 20 percent!
Q: I'm a seventh-grade teacher, and it alarms me at how little physical activity the kids get. They get on the bus at 6:30 a.m., have only 45 minutes for lunch and only 100 minutes a week of physical education (that's just 20 minutes a day)! Then it's back on the bus, home to supper and homework and TV. What can we do? — Susan G., Indianapolis
A: Your concerns are very realistic. A report from Designedtomove.org found that the rate of active play, physical education and overall physical activity for kids has dropped by 32 percent in the U.S. That leads to obesity (around 18 percent for kids 6 to 19), lower academic achievement, decreased earning potential and greater health care costs. It also might reduce a child's life expectancy by up to five years, according to the same report. And now a study from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health has found that by age 19, the average American teen is as sedentary as the typical 60-year-old!
Clearly, we as a nation have to change how we structure our days and how we value physical activity — the price tag for inaction is in the trillions of dollars, and the human suffering that inactivity creates is horrible and unnecessary.
What should be: Schools should make sure that every kid up to age 17 gets at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every day! School boards, teachers, parents and local and national agencies must join together to change this culture of inactivity into a culture of motion. Lobby your school board and representatives for changes in the basic requirement for PE. Moms and dads: Once kids are home, you need to get them out for a game of soccer, a swim, a bike ride, a jog or join them on a walk around the neighborhood. (That'll get you moving, too.) And put strict limits on digital screen time. We can upgrade our children's future — and have so much fun doing it!
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Mike Roizen is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.