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More Adults Report Getting Cholesterol Tested

Cholesterol Screenings Are Up, Some Groups At Risk

By Matt McMillen
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 6, 2012 -- The number of adults who say they have had high cholesterol at some point in their lives has gone up, and that may not be a bad thing, according to the CDC.

A new survey of adults nationwide suggests that they are learning the importance of checking their cholesterol. This awareness, not new cases, is likely the reason the numbers have gone up, the report's authors write.

This may well be true. In a CDC report published earlier this year, researchers found that the overall level of high cholesterol among adults over 20 had dropped from 18% to 13% between 2000 and 2010.

High cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke.

The Survey

The report drew on data from the Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a telephone survey conducted by the CDC. More than 350,000 American adults take the survey each year. Questions about cholesterol are asked every two years.

In 2005, 72.7% of U.S. adults over 18 said they had had their cholesterol checked at least once in the previous five years. By 2009, that percentage had risen to 76%.

Among those who had been tested in 2005, a third of them reported being told they had high cholesterol at some point in their lives. Four years later, in 2009, 35% said their cholesterol was high or had been so in the past.

Highs and Lows in 2009

  • 84.5% of Washington, D.C., adults said they had been tested for high cholesterol, compared to 67.7% of Idaho adults.
  • Most states showed a big rise in testing between 2005 and 2009. Eastern states had generally higher rates of testing than Western states.
  • 94.7% of adults 65 and older said they had been tested, compared to 63.2% of adults ages 18 to 44.
  • 54.4% of adults 65 and older said they currently had or had had high cholesterol, compared to 23.7% of adults ages 18 to 44.
  • More men reported high cholesterol than women: 37.5% vs. 32.6%.
  • More Hispanics and Asian/Pacific Islanders reported high cholesterol than other groups (36.3% and 37.5%, respectively) -- 33.1% of African-Americans said they had or had had high cholesterol.
  • New Mexico, at 30.5%, had the lowest percentage of adults reporting high cholesterol. Texas, at 38.8%, had the highest. About a third of all states showed an increasing number of adults who reported high cholesterol.

Finding high blood cholesterol early through testing is the first important step to treatment and lowering the risk for heart attack and stroke, the report's authors write.

Public health experts, medical experts, and health educators should emphasize cholesterol testing, especially for young adults, men, Hispanics, and those with lower levels of education, they write.

SOURCE: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Sept. 7, 2012.

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