While there may be no end in sight just yet for the obesity epidemic, there is some good news on Americans' health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that cholesterol levels have fallen in the U.S. over the last two decades. That’s certainly a step in improving overall health, but some experts are not convinced that it is all good news.
The findings, published in JAMA, estimated the level of total cholesterol in Americans' blood has decreased in the last 20 years as has the level of low density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol.
CDC researchers analyzed nationally representative data from health surveys collected over the span of two decades, beginning in the 1980s. Each survey had at least 9,000 participants, with some surveys having 17,000 participants, whose blood was taken; their medication usage was also recorded.
The levels of total cholesterol decreased from 206 milligrams per deciliter in surveys from 1988 to 1994 to 196 mg per dL in surveys collected from 1997 and 2010. Cholesterol levels have been linked to a slew of diseases, including heart disease and metabolic syndrome, which is a group of risk factors that ups the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Levels of bad cholesterol decreased from 129 mg per dL to 116 mg per dL. High density lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol, increased slightly in the same period.
Use of statins and other medications to lower cholesterol has increased significantly from the beginning of the survey period in 1998, but researchers did note a decrease in cholesterol in individuals who were not using cholesterol-lowering medications as well as those who were.
The improved cholesterol levels in Americans could be due to an improved diet. The switch to healthier oils used in cooking and the reduction oils high in trans-fat could have played a vital role in reducing American cholesterol levels.
While the news is positive, it’s not extraordinary. In fact, even a small change in dietary habits could have produced the results. Dr. Goodarz Danaei, from the Harvard School of Public Health, who was not involved in the study, told Reuters, "It's important and significant, the reduction that we see here, but it's not unbelievable.”
Public smoking bans may be possible factor that could have led to the reduction in cholesterol levels.
Other experts weighing in on the findings are also skeptical about how good the news really is. While U.S. deaths linked to cardiovascular disease have decreased by 31 percent since 1988, it remains the No. 1 killer in America, notes CBS News. In addition to that, many Americans are still not getting enough exercise nor are they eating better, as there was no improvement found by the researchers.
Many experts are chalking up the bit of good news about lower cholesterol levels to increased statin use, up from just 3 percent in 1988 to 15 percent in 2010. A previous study conducted by the CDC found that a shocking 35.7 percent of Americans were obese.