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One in Eight American Adults Still Has High Cholesterol, CDC Says

Many don't meet targets, and those targets may not be good enough to prevent heart attacks

About one in every eight American adults continues to have high levels of total cholesterol and even more have low levels of "good" cholesterol, health officials report.

According to HealthDay, although the percentage of adults with high total cholesterol and low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or "good" cholesterol declined between 2007 and 2014, roughly 12% of Americans still had high total cholesterol and 18.5% still had low levels of HDL cholesterol, the report found. These findings show that while many Americans are working on reaching better cholesterol levels, there is more work to be done, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers said.

Lead researcher Margaret Carroll, a survey statistician at CDC's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), speculated that more people are having their cholesterol checked and are being treated. Treatments include cholesterol-lowering statin drugs and making changes in lifestyle, such as reducing consumption of trans fats.

But one expert agreed that the progress that has been made is not enough. "High cholesterol is one of the major contributors for heart disease," said Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at the University of California in Los Angeles.

The higher the total blood cholesterol level and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol, the greater the risk for developing heart disease or having a heart attack. Low levels of HDL cholesterol are also associated with increased risk of heart disease, Fonarow explained.

"Fortunately, lowering total and LDL cholesterol with certain therapies has been demonstrated to markedly lower the risk of future heart attacks and stroke in both men and women with benefits that greatly outweigh potential risks," Fonarow said.

Using data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the investigators also found that fewer African-American men had high levels of total cholesterol than white, Asian, or Hispanic men. Among women, fewer African-American women had high total cholesterol than white and Hispanic women, they added.

According to the report, released in the NCHS Data Brief, African-American men and women and Asian men and women had higher levels of good cholesterol than Hispanic men and women. In addition, African-American men and women had higher levels of good cholesterol than white men and women, and Asian women had higher levels of good cholesterol than white women, Carroll's team found.

According to the report, there were declines between 2007 and 2014 in the percentage of adults with high total cholesterol, from just over 14% to 11%. There was also a drop in the percentage with low levels of good cholesterol, from just over 22% to slightly under 20%.

Although more Americans have lowered their cholesterol, many have not lowered it enough to reduce their risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke, Fonarow said. The report defines high total cholesterol as 240 mg/dL or above and low HDL cholesterol as less than 40 mg/dL. But Fonarow thinks those targets are not good enough.

"These [total cholesterol] levels are far above what is needed for ideal heart health, and the vast majority of men and women having heart attacks have total cholesterol levels well below 240 mg/dL," he said. These data do not fully capture the numbers of adults who could benefit from lifestyle changes and cholesterol-lowering statins, he added.

"All adults 20 to 79 should have their 10-year heart disease risk assessed," he said. "This includes having total cholesterol and HDL levels measured."

Source: HealthDay, December 2, 2015.

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