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Bad cholesterol common, but screening rates low among young adults (7/29)

July 29, 2010
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Less than half of young adults don't get cholesterol screening even though up to a quarter of them have elevated cholesterol, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The rate of elevated low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), commonly known as bad cholesterol, among young adults ranges from 7 percent to 26 percent, the study says. However, the screening rate among this age group is less than 50 percent, regardless of the number of individual risk factors, it says.

Approximately 55 percent of American young adults (men aged 20 to 35 years; women aged 20 to 45 years) have at least one risk factor for coronary heart disease, such as high blood pressure, smoking, family history or obesity, according to the CDC study.

"What's surprising and, quite frankly, rather concerning, is that we are doing such a poor job of identifying young adults in America who have elevated LDL-C, " said Dr. Elena Kuklina, a nutritional epidemiologist with the CDC Division for Heart disease and Stroke Prevention and lead author of the study. "Young men and women experience a high burden of risk factors for heart disease, the nation's leading cause of mortality."

The CDC study found elevated LDL-C levels in 7 percent of young adults with no other risk factors, 12 percent with one other risk factor, and 26 percent with two or more other risk factors. LDL-C is a common risk factor for coronary heart disease, one that can be managed with lifestyle changes or treated with medication if needed, once identified.

The study examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which explores the health and nutritional status of about 6,000 participants every year. Researchers analyzed results for 2,587 young adults. Elevated LDL-C was defined as levels higher than the goal specific for each heart disease risk category outlined in the National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III guidelines.

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