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High cholesterol myths vs. facts

high cholesterol myths

Myth 1. Only elderly people suffer with high cholesterol

It’s true that as we move through the decades towards retirement age, the more likely we are to have raised total cholesterol.

However, after the age of 65 years, the percentage of people with high total cholesterol starts to drop. Added to this, the latest figures show that more than one in six young adults aged between 16 and 24 years have high total cholesterol [1]. This increases to more than a third – 35% – of 25 to 34 year olds [1].

Bottom line: a large number of young people also have cholesterol levels that are too high and so are putting their health at risk.

Raised cholesterol by age in England

Source: NHS Digital (2019) Health Survey for England 2018

Myth 2. High cholesterol is mainly a problem for men

High cholesterol doesn’t just affect men – women are also at risk and in some cases, even more so than men! In fact, figures show that slightly more young women aged 16 to 24 years have raised total cholesterol than men of the same age.

Men then take the lead up to their mid 50s. But after the menopause and into old age, far more women than men have high total cholesterol. For example, almost three quarters – 73% – of 55 to 64 year-old women have raised total cholesterol compared with 58% of men of the same age [British Heart Foundation (2020) UK Factsheet. January 2020].

The reality: women need to be just as vigilant at getting their cholesterol levels monitored, especially after the menopause.

Raised cholesterol by gender in England

Source: NHS Digital (2019) Health Survey for England 2018

Myth 3. Only overweight and unfit people have high cholesterol

This is simply not true. While being overweight and inactive tend to go hand in hand with high cholesterol, being a healthy weight and exercising regularly aren’t an automatic green light for healthy levels of cholesterol. The truth is even slim, fit people can have high cholesterol. That’s why it’s so important to get your cholesterol checked.