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High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease and possibly some types of stroke. It is one of the main causes of the process by which the blood vessels that supply the heart and other parts of the body become clogged.

What is high blood cholesterol?

Total blood cholesterol levels above 5.5 mmol/L are an indication of a greatly increased risk of developing coronary heart disease. Levels above 6.5 mmol/L are considered to indicate extremely high risk.

Major causes of high blood cholesterol

For most people, saturated fat in the diet is regarded as the main factor that raises blood cholesterol levels. Cholesterol in foods can also raise blood cholesterol levels, but less than saturated fat does. Genetic factors can affect blood cholesterol - some people have high cholesterol levels regardless of their saturated fat and cholesterol dietary intake and are at increased risk from coronary heart disease.

For more information on diet as a risk factor, go to Nutrition.

How many Australians have high blood cholesterol?

  • The 1999-2000 Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study (which took blood cholesterol measurements) found that over six million Australian adults (aged 25 years and over) had cholesterol levels higher than 5.5 mmol/L.
  • Around 50% of both men and women (aged 25 years and over) had blood cholesterol levels above 5.5 mmol/L.
  • Based on self-reports from the Australian Bureau of Statistics' National Health Survey 2004-05, it is estimated that about 1.3 million Australians have high blood cholesterol. This corresponds to 7% of the population. However, self-reported data are not as reliable as measured data.
  • Average blood cholesterol levels have declined only slightly for men and women during the period 1980 to 1999-2000.

Further information

For more information see Chapter 5 of Australia's health 2012.