Nearly a third fewer Americans have high cholesterol now than in 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Yet according to the CDC, more than a third of United States adults, about 93 million of them, still have dangerously high levels of the plaque-like substance that can clog arteries and restrict blood flow. Too much LDL – or “bad” cholesterol – doubles the risk of heart disease, the country’s leading cause of death, and is a major risk factor for stroke, the nation’s fifth-leading killer.
Combined, heart disease and strokes claim more than 868,000 American lives each year.
Since September is National Cholesterol Education Month, it’s an ideal time to remember there are ways to contain high cholesterol, and turn around all those scary statistics.
“We know with confidence that there are many steps we can take to help modify our cholesterol levels,” said Dr. Jennifer Chambers, chief medical officer at Capital Blue Cross. “Regular screenings, a healthier diet, weight loss, more exercise, and prescribed medications can all dramatically lower our cholesterol levels and our risk.”
High cholesterol’s costs extend to America’s employers. A 2015 report funded by the American Heart Association found that high cholesterol would cost the United States $276 billion in lost productivity by 2030.
Because there are no symptoms associated with it, high cholesterol often goes untreated. An illustration: Only 55% of adults who could benefit from proven cholesterol-lowering medications actually take them, according to the CDC.
So the American Heart Association urges adults 20 and older to screen for high cholesterol every four to six years. And America’s Health Rankings recommends cholesterol-lowering medications, including those in the widely used statin family, when prescribed by a physician. Experts across the board also recommend diets low in saturated fats, increased exercise, and weight loss.
Employers can help by encouraging healthy lifestyles, and by choosing health benefits that cover cholesterol screening, counseling, and treatment.
Capital Blue Cross offers a variety of preventive services to fight high cholesterol, and with no cost share to employee groups with standard benefit coverage. Those services may include annual preventive visits to review health and other risk factors; medication (see full covered medication list at capbluecross.com); bloodwork to check cholesterol levels; blood pressure screenings; and counseling for cardiovascular disease prevention.
“High cholesterol doesn’t have to remain the potentially deadly risk it is for so many,” Dr. Chambers said. “There’s a lot we can do to decrease dangerous levels relatively quickly if we recognize the danger in letting it go unchecked, and make a commitment to managing it.”