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Knowledge Of Cholesterol Numbers Lagging Among Women

Armen Hareyan's picture

Adult women are more than twice as likely to know how much they weighed in high school as they are to know their current cholesterol number, and only half of women have had their cholesterol tested in the past year, according to the results of a nationwide survey released today.

The survey, conducted by the Society for Women's Health Research, a Washington, D.C., based advocacy organization, found that 79 percent of women know how much they weighed in high school but less than one-third know their current cholesterol number. Of the women who had a recent cholesterol test, only 57 percent could actually recall their cholesterol number.

Data from the survey suggests a major disconnect between women understanding the risks associated with high cholesterol and actually taking action to monitor and control it.

A majority of the women surveyed (63 percent) said they were concerned that high cholesterol will be a health concern during their lifetime and almost 60 percent of women said they were actively trying to manage their cholesterol, yet only 32 percent knew their cholesterol number.

Most women recognize the health risks of having high cholesterol. Nearly nine out of 10 women surveyed (88 percent) know that high cholesterol is linked to hardening of the arteries and heart disease, and almost as many women (85 percent) know high cholesterol can lead to stroke.

"Clearly, strides have been made in educating women on the risks of high cholesterol, but the disconnect between awareness and action needs to be addressed," said Phyllis Greenberger, president and CEO of the Society for Women's Health Research. "Knowing your cholesterol number is the first step in controlling cholesterol. That number is certainly more important than what you weighed in high school."

As for ways to help control cholesterol, nearly all women (96 percent) understand that exercise can play a part in fighting high cholesterol with just about as many women knowing that eating more fruits and vegetables (95 percent) and eating foods low in fat (94 percent) can also contribute to better heart health. In addition, 94 percent of women knew that there are medicines, called statins, available which can help you lower cholesterol if diet and exercise are not effective.

The results of the telephone survey of 524 women, conducted by GfK Custom Research North America, from June 29 - July 1 2007, also showed that:

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-- One in three (32.9 percent) did not know that women can exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet, but still have dangerously high cholesterol levels.

-- Women with a family history of high cholesterol are only slightly more likely than the general population (66 vs. 60 percent) to say they are actively trying to manage their cholesterol levels.

-- More than one-third (36.3 percent) of women were surprised to learn that high cholesterol has no symptoms.

-- Less than four in 10 (35 percent) women know any of the four key numbers for monitoring cholesterol: total cholesterol level, LDL level, HDL level, and triglyceride (blood fat) level.

-- Half of American women are not familiar with the terms LDL (47 percent) and HDL (49 percent), which are critical to managing cholesterol and heart health.

-- Ninety percent of women (90.6 percent) believe that some cholesterol is good, yet only a third of women (38 percent) correctly identified HDL as the "good" cholesterol. An equal number got it wrong.

-- Only 21 percent of women know their high density lipoprotein (their HDL level -- the "good" cholesterol), with an equally low number knowing their low density lipoprotein (their LDL level - the "bad" cholesterol).

-- Women are equally concerned about developing heart disease (71 percent) and breast cancer (70 percent) in their lifetime and 43 percent were surprised to learn that heart disease kills six times as many women as breast cancer.

-- Half of the females surveyed (50.2 percent) knew that atherosclerosis was hardening of the arteries.