- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2007

The results are but a needle stick away, and it is one of the most important tests in the medical arsenal. Yet one in six American adults — 36 million people — are completely clueless about their cholesterol.

That’s how many have never had their cholesterol checked, according to an analysis released today from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), an office of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The guidelines are clear: The federal agency recommends everyone 20 and older have their cholesterol checked at least every five years to assess their risk of heart attack, stroke or circulatory disease. British researchers suggested last month that children as young as 15 months be tested to help predict their risk of heart disease later in life.

Many people, however, don’t bother.

The worst offenders were the young: 40 percent of those ages 20 to 34 have not had the simple blood test, which detects the presence of potentially harmful lipids — fatty substances — in their blood. A third of uninsured people of all ages have not been screened, along with 21 percent of people who did not complete high school. The figure was 14 percent among those who had at least some college.

Ethnicity definitely plays a role. One-fourth of all Hispanic adults have not had their cholesterol tested, along with 16 percent each of black and Asian adults. The number is 15 percent among whites. Men are far more derelict in their duties than are women. The study found that a fifth of all men have neglected to get their cholesterol checked, compared with 14 percent of women.

Why do people skip the test? The American Heart Association has assembled a list of misconceptions about cholesterol which might sway their thinking.

Many folks feel that thin people and women are somehow “protected” from high cholesterol or that it is simply a condition of middle or old age. The American Heart Association has assembled a list of misconceptions about cholesterol which might sway their thinking.

“Have your cholesterol checked regularly regardless of your weight, physical activity and diet,” the group advises.

Cholesterol screening is not always a priority. Eight out of 10 American women, for example, know how much they weighed in high school, yet less than a third know their cholesterol number, according to a survey of more than 500 women released in August by the District-based Society for Women’s Health Research.

Insurance is not necessarily a factor either, according to the AHRQ analysis: 22 percent who have public insurance, and 16 percent of people with private health insurance have never been tested for cholesterol.

Seventeen percent of those between ages 35 and 44 have skipped cholesterol screening altogether. The number drops to 6 percent between ages 45 and 64 and a mere 2 percent among people 65 and older.

Findings are based on 2005 data from the agency’s Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), an annual, nationwide sampling about health care, expenses and health status.

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