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

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.