Much wider use of aggressive cholesterol-lowering drug combinations throughout Europe is the way to contain soaring health and welfare costs of the ageing population, according to a new report from the Stockholm Network, a pan-European think tank.

The report Cholesterol: the public policy implications of not doing enough, warns that, by 2020, one in five Europeans will be over 60 and a potential healthcare burden.

Reducing cholesterol, the biggest single heart disease risk factor, to low levels would slash premature deaths and keep many people fit to work beyond current retirement age, the report argues.

Speaking in Brussels, report co-author Stephen Pollard said: “Heart disease currently kills 1.9 million Europeans each year and costs 169 billion euros or 90,000 euros per patient per year to manage.”

A rise in Type 2 diabetes is projected to add 63 billion euros per year by 2020.

“There is extensive evidence that lipid-lowering drugs are underprescribed and that suboptimal dosing is widespread. As a result, only around 40% of treated patients achieve target lipid levels,” he said.

Both physicians and patients had a fear of increasing statin doses to necessary levels. This problem could be overcome by adding a cholesterol absorption inhibitor to a low statin dose, he suggested. Policy makers should find ways to encourage GPs to ensure a better uptake of guidelines and effective prescribing strategies he concluded.