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September is National Cholesterol Education Month

Woman riding a bikeHigh blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. An estimated 106 million American adults have total blood cholesterol levels of 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or higher, which is above desirable levels. Of these, more than 37 million persons have levels of 240 mg/dL or above, which is considered high risk.1

High blood cholesterol levels can develop in early childhood and increase throughout a person's lifespan. To increase awareness of the importance of knowing your cholesterol levels and taking steps to achieve or maintain healthy levels, the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) sponsors National Cholesterol Education Month every September. The NCEP recommends that adults aged 20 years or older have their cholesterol checked once every 5 years.

Cholesterol levels can be lowered through lifestyle changes such as dietary improvement, increased physical activity, weight control, and by medications.2 The NCEP recently published updated recommendations about cholesterol treatment particularly for people at increased risk.3

A cholesterol test called a "lipoprotein profile" can be done to measure your total cholesterol levels, including low density lipoprotein (LDL), high density lipoprotein (HDL), and triglycerides (another kind of fat found in the blood). Desirable or optimal levels for persons with or without existing heart disease are

  • Total cholesterol: Less than 200 mg/dL.
  • LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol): Less than 100 mg/dL.
  • HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol): 40 mg/dL or higher.
  • Triglycerides: Less than 150 mg/dL.

CDC Programs Focusing on Cholesterol

CDC's State Heart Disease and Prevention Program: CDC currently funds health departments in 33 states and the District of Columbia to develop effective strategies to reduce the burden of cardiovascular diseases and related risk factors with an overarching emphasis on heart healthy policies and physical and social environmental changes. Through these state programs, CDC aims to reduce disparities in treatment, risk factors, and disease; delay the onset of disease; postpone death from cardiovascular disease; and reduce disabling conditions. For more information, please visit our Web site.

WISEWOMAN: a CDC–funded program that helps women without insurance gain access to screening and lifestyle interventions that can reduce their risk for heart disease, stroke, and other chronic diseases. CDC funds 15 WISEWOMAN projects in 14 states, which operate on the local level in states and tribal organizations. Projects provide standard preventive services including blood pressure and cholesterol testing, and programs to help women develop a healthier diet, increase physical activity, and quit using tobacco. For more information, please see the WISEWOMAN Web site.

CDC’s Lipid Standardization Program: With accurate measurements, doctors can diagnose and properly treat people with high cholesterol levels, thus reducing illness and death associated with this disease. As the world reference laboratory for measuring cholesterol, triglycerides, high–density lipoproteins, and low–density lipoprotein cholesterol, CDC's Environmental Health Laboratory helps to ensure the quality of about 35 million cholesterol measurements made in the United States alone each year. For more information, please see

Cholesterol Resources

Cholesterol fact sheet:

Other fact sheets on heart disease and stroke:

For More Information

For additional information about cholesterol, please see the web sites of the following CDC partners:


  1. American Heart Association. Heart and Stroke Statistics—2008 Update. Available on the American Heart Association website at: *
  2. National Cholesterol Education Program. Executive Summary of the Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (ATP III). Available on the National Heart, Lung and Blood Website at:
  3. Grundy SM, Cleeman JI, Bairey Merz CN; Brewer HB Jr; Clark LT, Hunninghake DB, Pasternak RC, Smith SC Jr, Stone NJ. Implications of Recent Clinical Trials for the National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III Guidelines. Circulation. 2004;110:227–239. Available at website: *

*Links to non–Federal organizations are provided solely as a service to our users. Links do not constitute an endorsement of any organization by CDC or the Federal Government, and none should be inferred. The CDC is not responsible for the content of the individual organization Web pages found at this link.

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Page last reviewed: August 19, 2008
Page last modified: August 19, 2008

Content source: Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

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