Since the COVID-19 pandemic began last year, much attention has been paid to the ways the risk levels for severe illness or death from the virus interact with other health conditions. Age is one of the most significant risk factors, but COVID-19 is also particularly damaging for individuals who are obese or have preexisting heart conditions. For that reason, one important indicator of an individual’s COVID-19 risk is their cholesterol levels. A new report from Sidecar Health looking at the U.S. cities with the largest percentage of adults with high cholesterol.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in the blood that helps produce cell membranes and hormones in the body. The body produces cholesterol naturally through the liver, but diet—especially the type and amount of fatty foods an individual eats—is a major contributor to cholesterol levels in the body. Cholesterol also increases with age as the body becomes less capable of clearing it from the blood.
While high cholesterol can be caused by genetic factors, it often results from poor diet, a lack of physical activity, and other unhealthy behaviors. Both obesity and diabetes—which are similarly made worse by unhealthy eating—show up more commonly in places where cholesterol levels are high.
High cholesterol is a common problem throughout the U.S., but locations in the Southern U.S. show the greatest concentrations of residents reporting high cholesterol levels. There are several reasons why this might be the case. For one, the diet of the region has more added fats, fried foods, meats, and other foods that contribute to high cholesterol levels. Further, many parts of the Southern U.S. are rural or low-income communities where healthy food options are harder to find or more expensive than fatty, processed options. Finally, many other correlated risk factors like obesity and smoking are also more common in the South.
To find the states and cities with the highest cholesterol levels, researchers at Sidecar Health used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Locations were ranked based on the proportion of adults who were ever told by a healthcare professional that they had high cholesterol. In the event of a tie, the location with the higher prevalence of coronary heart disease (one of the most common adverse health conditions resulting from high cholesterol) was ranked higher.
Here are the large U.S. cities suffering the most from high cholesterol: