Calls for monitoring cholesterol levels in youth, not just in middle age

Mark Fuerst

July 19, 2000

New York, NY - Young people, not just the middle-aged, should adopt heart-healthy habits to help lower cholesterol levels as well as the risks of dying from heart disease, the media report in revealing the details of a JAMA article showing an increased risk of death among young, hypercholesteremic men under age 40, as reported by heart wire on July 18, 2000. "It's never too early to worry about cholesterol," writes Dulce Zamora for the website CBSHealthWatch on July 18, 2000. On the same day, Associated Press (AP) medical writer Lindsey Tanner writes: "If you think people in their 20s and 30s don't have to worry about their cholesterol, think again."

 

If you think people in their 20s and 30s don't have to worry about their cholesterol, think again

 

The study group included 81000 men age 18 to 39 from three cohorts; those whose total cholesterol was 240 mg/dL or higher had nearly 3 times the risk of dying of cardiovascular disease (CVD), CBSHealthWatch reports. Cardiologist Dr David Meyerson (Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions), a spokesperson for the American Heart Association (AHA), calls the study "powerful," in the website report, and says the findings confirm "what experts have known all along - that high cholesterol over a lifetime predisposes people to many health problems," writes Zamora.

The researchers only studied men because there were not enough women in the study group who died of MIs or who had other cardiovascular diseases, but CBSHealthWatch points out that "women are not exempt from getting coronary or cardiovascular disease." "More women die of blood vessel disease than men do," says Meyerson in the CBSHealthWatch report, adding that "prevention is the name of the game."

FORMER AHA HEAD SAYS BENEFITS OF EARLY SCREENING WILL OUTWEIGH COSTS

Former AHA president Dr Sidney Smith (Chief of Cardiology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC) told Richard Saltus of the Boston Globe on July 19, 2000: "This is an important paper because it provides strong evidence for the value of early detection" of high cholesterol. "There are understandable concerns about the cost of screening young individuals, and questions about the benefits of treating a younger population." Smith adds that this new report "suggests the benefits will be there."

 
The American Heart Association already recommends that cholesterol readings be made every 5 years beginning at age 20
 

The Globe noted: "The American Heart Association already recommends that cholesterol readings be made every 5 years beginning at age 20." According to Dr Scott Grundy (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX), the paper adds, "the opportunity to get such early screening is often missed because busy doctors can't take time to counsel young, healthy patients about reducing their cholesterol, which can be done through diet and drugs," Dr Peter Libby (Chief of Cardiovascular Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA) told the Globe that the study reinforces the need for a "more aggressive stance" in lowering high cholesterol at an early age. "Prevention is underrewarded," Libby told the paper. "HMOs have little incentive to prevent illnesses that may occur in a 10- to 20-year span, when the average length of time a member is with a health care plan is under 5 years."

 
HMOs have little incentive to prevent illnesses that may occur in a 10- to 20-year span, when the average length of time a member is with a health care plan is under 5 years"
 

"At Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, cholesterol screening is done according to guidelines based on recommendations by the Heart Association and other groups, Dr Roberta Herman, (Medical Director for Clinical Policy and Programs, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care)," told the Globe. "Our current recommendation is that screening begin at age 20 or the first appropriate opportunity."

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