Community pharmacies within a 20-minute walking distance may better help those struggling with health problems, like obesity, finds new research from Durham University in the UK.

"The role of the community pharmacist has changed significantly in recent years and there is now more focus on delivering public health services, such as promoting healthy lifestyles and modification of health-related behaviors,” Dr. Adam Todd, lead study author from Durham University's School of Medicine, Pharmacy and Health, said in a press release. The study, published in the journal BMJ Open, is the first to show how much more accessible pharmacies impact a community, especially to those living in deprived areas. Their strategic placement enable those closest by struggling with conditions, such as smoking, alcohol miscues, and obesity, to seek treatment.

"The [community pharmacies'] less formal approach and sheer convenience provided by a high street presence means they are a beacon of well-being and advice to many who would simply never engage with other healthcare settings," Todd said. Since community pharmacies are much more concscious of the local population, they have the opportunity to tailor their services to the most prevalent public health concern. For example, a pharmacy in a community with people particularly struggling with obesity may offer an increased number of health and wellness programs.

Outside of the UK, a study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy found patients who see a community pharmacist are significantly more likely to adhere to their prescription, reducing their emergency room and hopsital visits in the process, which, in turn, saves a patient money.

"This untapped resource could be harnessed and used to improve public health and reduce overall health care costs," Dr. Janice Pringle, lead study author and director of the Program Evaluation and Research Unit (PERU) at Pitt's School of Pharmacy. "If people took their medications as prescribed, diabetes would not evolve and worsen, blood pressure would normalize, cholesterol would be reduced dramatically, and the risk for severe health problems, such as heart attack or stroke, would be reduced. Patients would live longer and probably enjoy a higher quality of life."

With more support from the government, community pharmacies will be in a position to offer better services so that each person is empowered to take control of their health.

Source: Todd A et al. BMJ Open. 2014.