27.6% of California Adults Have High Cholesterol, 15th Fewest in U.S.

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 interacts 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.

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. Because of this, a key component to healthy aging is adopting strategies and behaviors to maintain healthy blood cholesterol levels. While cholesterol has an important role to play in the functioning of the body, having too much of it can invite a host of other health problems.

As cholesterol levels increase, it can lead to the buildup of plaque in blood vessels and restrict the flow of blood in the body. This can have a major impact on cardiac health, and many severe health conditions are positively correlated with high cholesterol levels. Coronary heart disease—when the arteries that supply blood to the heart become obstructed by plaque buildup, a process that occurs more commonly when cholesterol is high—can cause chest pain and heart attacks. Restricted blood flow can also lead to strokes, which occur when the brain’s supply of blood is interrupted. And as the heart works harder to pump blood through the body with clogged blood vessels, high blood pressure follows.

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—shows up more commonly in places where cholesterol levels are high. On top of diet, smoking can also exacerbate cholesterol problems by increasing the stickiness of cholesterol in the blood and making it more likely to accumulate in the bloodstream. For that reason, smoking and cholesterol levels also show a positive correlation.

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.

The analysis found that 27.6% of adults in California have at some point been told by a healthcare professional that they have high cholesterol. Out of the 49 U.S. states with complete data, California is 15th least impacted by high cholesterol. Here is a summary of the data for California:

  • Percentage of adults who ever had high cholesterol: 27.6%
  • Percentage of adults who ever had coronary heart disease: 2.5%
  • Percentage of adults who ever had a stroke: 2.4%
  • Percentage of adults who ever had high blood pressure: 26.4%
  • Percentage of adults who are obese: 25.9%
  • Percentage of adults who ever had diabetes: 9.4%
  • Percentage of adults who smoke: 10.1%

For reference, here are the statistics for the entire United States:

  • Percentage of adults who ever had high cholesterol: 33.1%
  • Percentage of adults who ever had coronary heart disease: 3.9%
  • Percentage of adults who ever had a stroke: 3.2%
  • Percentage of adults who ever had high blood pressure: 32.3%
  • Percentage of adults who are obese: 32.1%
  • Percentage of adults who ever had diabetes: 10.7%
  • Percentage of adults who smoke: 16.0%

For more information, a detailed methodology, and complete results, you can find the original report on Sidecar Health’s website: https://sidecarhealth.com/articles/us-cities-suffering-from-high-cholesterol

Mike LaFirenza writes for Lattice News Wire

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