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Cardiologists propose putting pills beside salt and ketchup to balance heart disease risk.
McDonald's, Burger King and other fast food outlets should offer diners free drugs to compensate for the risk of heart disease, cardiologists proposed today.
If burger joints offered cholesterol-lowering statins, customers would offset the unhealthy effects of a cheeseburger and milkshake, according to researchers at Imperial College London.
The pills could be placed beside the salt, pepper and tomato ketchup to encourage people to pop one after their meal.
The suggestion is made in a paper by Dr Darrel Francis, a cardiologist at Imperial's National Heart and Lung Institute, and colleagues published in the American Journal of Cardiology.
The idea was criticised by leading doctors, who said the study could encourage ill-health by prompting even greater consumption of junk food and increasing the belief in "a pill for every ill".
Francis said: "Statins do not cut out all of the unhealthy effects of burgers and fries. It's better to avoid fatty food altogether. But in terms of your likelihood of having a heart attack, taking a statin can reduce your risk to more or less the same degree as a fast food meal increases it."
People eat fast food despite knowing that it is bad for them. Given that, said Francis: "It makes sense to make risk-reducing supplements available just as easily as the unhealthy condiments that are provided free of charge. It would cost less then 5p per customer - not much different to a sachet of ketchup."
The proposal was in line with other established risk-reducing measures such as wearing a seatbelt or buying filtered cigarettes, Francis argued.
Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, denounced the proposal. "This paper just amazes me," he said. "Let's get real; we should be encouraging healthy lifestyles, not pill popping. This is an unwelcome addition to the 'pill for every ill' attitude that's already much too common. The danger of this research is that some people will become even more complacent about eating fatty food and high calorie food, and might even increase their intake of them."
While statins were generally safe they could increase the risk of muscle weakness and, in rare cases, of kidney failure, cataracts and liver problems, Field added.
Millions of Britons who have dangerously high cholesterol levels, and those with existing heart problems, take statins regularly to reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said: "The suggestion that the harmful effects of a junk food meal might be erased by taking a cholesterol-lowering statin tablet should not be taken literally. Statins are a vital medicine for people with, or at high risk of developing, heart disease. They are not a magic bullet."
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