Aim: over the last 10 decades, ‘lifestyle medicines’ or ‘lifestyle drugs’ have been used with increasing frequency by journalists, politicians, authorities and to some extent by scientists. The objective of this paper is to analyse the quantity and quality of the use of these terms and discuss the implications associated with the labelling of indications and products as lifestyle medicines or lifestyle drugs.
Methods: The findings in this paper are based on an extensive literature review in the databases Medline, Pubmed, Embase and the two most frequently used search engines altavista.com and google.com, as well as the media database LexisNexis.
Results: In the period 1978 to August 2003, the term ‘lifestyle medicines /drugs’ has appeared 3174 times in English language media. In total, 23 different definitions are presented in the scientific literature.
Conclusions: The review of the scientific literature shows that no widely accepted definition of the terms ‘lifestyle medicines’ or ‘lifestyle drugs’ exists. Nevertheless the terms have appeared more than 3000 times in the media (2600 times since 1998), which means that in most cases, the use of the terms ‘lifestyle medicines’ or ‘lifestyle drugs’ are based on the authors’ own assumptions and values. This is problematic, not only in terms of a discourse, where no one knows what forms the basis of the discussion, but also because this at best leads to an uninformed discussion and at worst to harmful conclusions that might stigmatise and discriminate patients. Based on these findings, this paper argues that a clear, widely accepted definition of the terms ‘lifestyle medicines’ or ‘lifestyle drugs’ is essential to avoid potential misunderstandings that might lead to discrimination in the rationing of healthcare resources or stigmatisation of patients.