Cholesterol is a fat produced by the liver. Too much cholesterol in your blood is considered high cholesterol and is the primary risk factor for cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke.
About 28 million (1.5%) Americans ages 20 and over had high cholesterol from 2015 to 2018.
This article highlights important facts and statistics you need to know about high cholesterol.
High cholesterol occurs when too much fat (lipids) is in your blood. These lipids can build up in your arteries and form fatty deposits known as “plaque.” Plaque formation leads to atherosclerosis, which increases the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
There are two main types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL), often referred to as “bad” cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), commonly called “good” cholesterol. A total blood cholesterol level of 240 mg/dL or greater is considered high in adults.
How Is Cholesterol Measured?
Cholesterol levels are measured via a blood test called a lipid panel. Your total cholesterol level is a combination of levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL), and very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL).
How Common Is High Cholesterol?
More than one out of every 10 Americans has high total cholesterol. Between 2015 and 2018, approximately 15.8 million females and 12.2 million male adults in the United States had high cholesterol.
Nearly three out of every 10 people in the United States have high LDL cholesterol (LDL level of 130 mg/dL or more). About two out of every 10 people in the United States have low HDL cholesterol (an HDL level of less than 40 mg/dL).
Adults with high cholesterol in the United States have decreased in the past 20 years, from 18.3% in 1999–2000 to 10.5% in 2017–2018.
High Cholesterol by Ethnicity
From 2015 to 2018, the percentage of adults in the United States with high total cholesterol was lower overall for non-Hispanic Black adults than for non-Hispanic White, non-Hispanic Asian, or Hispanic adults.
Non-Hispanic Asian men have the highest rates of high cholesterol among men, while non-Hispanic White women have the highest rates of high cholesterol among women. Non-Hispanic Black men have the lowest rates of high cholesterol, while Hispanic women have the lowest rates of high cholesterol among women.
The percentage of U.S. adult men and women with high cholesterol by ethnic group includes:
- Non-Hispanic Black: men 9.2%, women 10.5%
- Hispanic: men 12.4%, women 9.2%
- Non-Hispanic White: men 10.1%, women 13.1%
- Non-Hispanic Asian: men 13%, women 10.3%
High Cholesterol by Age and Gender
Women are slightly more likely than men to have high cholesterol. Between 2015 and 2018, just over 10% of men and about 12% of women in the United States had high cholesterol.
Between 2015 and 2018, adults 40–59 had the highest overall rates of high cholesterol, followed by adults 60 years and over, with adults between the ages of 20 and 39 having the lowest rates. However, among men, adults ages 20–39 years old are more likely to have high cholesterol than men ages 60 and over.
The percentage of U.S. adult men and women with high total cholesterol by age and gender includes:
|High Cholesterol Levels by Age and Gender (2015–2018)|
|60 years and older||11.4||6.0||15.9|
Causes of High Cholesterol and Risk Factors
Certain lifestyle behaviors and health conditions as well as genetics can raise your risk of high cholesterol. Risk factors and causes of high cholesterol include:
High Cholesterol Screening Rates
Lipid panels to screen for high cholesterol are recommended at least every four to six years for adults ages 20 and older at low risk for heart attack or stroke. Screenings are often recommended for those at increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
In 2019, 86.6% of adults in the United States reported their blood cholesterol was checked within five years, 8.6% said they never had it checked, and 3.9% reported it had not been checked in the past five years.
More than one out of every 10 Americans have high cholesterol, a major risk factor for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. The number of Americans with high cholesterol has decreased in the past 20 years. High cholesterol rates are highest overall among Americans ages 40–59 and lowest among those ages 20–39. Women are slightly more likely than men to have high cholesterol. Overall, non-Hispanic Black people have the lowest rates of high cholesterol of any U.S. ethnic group, while non-Hispanic Asian people have the highest rates.
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