Americans overall have better control of their Cholesterol, but we’re not out of the woods.
It’s no secret that the United States could stand to collectively shed a few pounds. More than two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese.
But a few months ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a bit of good news. Although Americans’ waistlines are expanding, cholesterol levels are actually going down.
According to the CDC, 13.4 percent of American adults now have high total cholesterol (higher than 240 mg/dL) compared with 18.3 percent a few years ago. High total cholesterol is a risk factor for coronary heart disease.
Cholesterol, a fat-like substance in the blood, is needed to function properly. But having too much can cause plaque buildup in the arteries, which can lead to heart disease.
But the decrease in cholesterol levels doesn’t mean Americans, who suffer more than a million heart attacks each year, should breathe easy.
“That is good news, but we are not out of the woods,” says Dr. Nathan Wong, director of the University of California, Irvine Heart Disease Prevention Program and immediate past president of the American Society for Preventive Cardiology. ”There are many other risk factors for heart disease, particularly elevated obesity.”
Cholesterol, says Wong, is just one piece of the puzzle when dealing with a person’s heart health.
“A patient’s cholesterol levels might be under control, but other risk factors may not be,” Wong says. “Blood pressure or blood glucose numbers, for instance, might be high.”
While many people can control cholesterol levels with a heart-healthy lifestyle, Wong says he has no doubt that statins, which have been on the U.S. market for 20 years, have contributed to lower cholesterol levels. He also suspects that more people are avoiding high-fat foods — especially red meat — that have contributed to high cholesterol levels. But, he cautions, there is still significant room for improvement.
“Calorie consumption is not ideal, physical activity levels are not ideal,” Wong says. “Portion sizes continue to get bigger and obesity is still on the rise.”
The American Heart Association’s campaign, Life’s Simple 7, promotes getting active, controlling cholesterol, losing weight, eating better, lowering blood pressure and quitting smoking. Wong suggests everyone follow its rules to help keep heart disease at bay. Learn more about the program at: mylifecheck.heart.org