Cholesterol levels in the UK have dropped sharply since 1980

Britain is getting healthier: Cholesterol levels in the UK have dropped sharply since 1980 but are rising in poorer Asian countries due to high-fat diets

  • UK has nose-dived from 18th highest in the world to as low as 130th for women
  • Poorer Asian nations including Thailand and Malaysia have seen a spike in levels
  • Scientists said UK’s levels had dropped due to an improved diet and statin use 

Britain’s cholesterol levels have nose-dived over the last 40 years thanks to a healthier diet lower in fat and the increasing use of statins, scientists have said.

The UK once had the 18th highest cholesterol level in the world for both men and women, putting them at increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, but it has shed the excess and dropped to 106th and 130th place respectively.

Poorer Asian nations such as Thailand and Malaysia have overtaken Britain and other Western nations in Europe, North America and Australasia as their populations suffer the effects of globalisation. 

Despite the shift, however, an estimated six out of ten adults in England are still suffering from high levels of cholesterol.

This map shows changes in total cholesterol levels between 1980 (left) and 2018 (right). The red colour means higher levels, while the blue and green means lower levels

The study, published in Nature, was conducted by hundreds of scientists who used databanks to collect information on the cholesterol levels of more than 100 million people living in 200 different countries. 

The data taken was from between 1980 and 2018, in order to reveal how levels had changed over time.

Lead author of the study, Professor Majid Ezzati, said cholesterol levels dropped in the UK due to an improved diet where saturated fats had been replaced with unsaturated fats.

‘The decline in western countries, including the UK, has actually been sharper than the rise in Asia,’ he told MailOnline.

‘To the best we can tell, from our work and broader literature, the long-term replacement of saturated with unsaturated fats – from butter to vegetable oils – and treatment with medicines like statins have been the strongest drivers.’ 

He added: ‘Some of the reduction in cholesterol levels in Western nations is due to increased use of statins, which are not yet used widely in low- and middle-income countries.’

Cholesterol levels in the UK have dropped as more people adopt healthier diets and due to the increasing use of statins. They have, however, risen in poorer Asian nations

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, added: ‘It’s encouraging to see the reduction in levels of non-HDL or “bad” cholesterol in the UK since 1980.

‘Public health initiatives about the risks of a diet high in saturated fat, and wider treatment with statins in those with high levels will have made a big contribution. 

‘The result is undoubtedly fewer heart attacks and strokes.

‘However, we mustn’t be complacent or be misled by this change. High numbers of people still have undiagnosed or uncontrolled levels of non-HDL cholesterol putting them at greater risk of heart and circulatory diseases.’  

Cholesterol, a waxy substance found in our blood, is normally used by our body to build cell walls.

There are two main types known as high density lipoprotein (HDL) and low density lipoprotein (LDL).

When too much LDL is circulating in the blood it can slowly build up on the walls of arteries which may lead to a blockages, triggering a heart attack.

Foods containing high levels of LDL include fatty cuts of meat, cheese, deep fried fast food and processed items such as biscuits and pastries.

The increasing use of statins in western nations has helped cause a fall in cholesterol levels

Responding to the study, Prof Ezzati said: ‘For the first time, the highest levels of cholesterol are outside of the Western world.

‘This suggests we now need to set into place throughout the world pricing and regulatory policies that shift diets from saturated to unsaturated fats, and to prepare health systems to treat those in need with effective medicines.’

‘This will help prevent millions of deaths from high cholesterol in these regions.’

The study found  high cholesterol levels were responsible for almost four million deaths worldwide, half of which occurred in South and South-East Asia.

They also found China had seen one of the biggest spikes in cholesterol levels in the world.

The British Heart Foundation has encouraged anyone over 40 to get their cholesterol levels checked, so that anyone suffering from higher levels can be treated.

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