High levels of the blood fat are linked with cardiovascular disease, which by killing 17m lives a year is the world’s biggest killer.
And according to the largest ever study of 147m people, most people around the globe with high cholesterol are not getting the treatment they need (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk).
Information on cholesterol levels and prescribing patterns were gathered from England, Scotland, Germany, Japan, the USA, Mexico and Jordan between 1998 and 2007.
The study says too few people are put on cholesterol-lowering drugs.
According to the analysis many at-risk people in middle-income and western countries alike are not on cheap and widely available statin drugs that would substantially cut their risk of heart attack and stroke.
The report authors wrote : “These findings support the growing recognition that cardiovascular diseases are not merely ‘diseases of affluence’ and that some middle-income countries are beginning to face a double burden of both chronic and communicable diseases.”
When in Japan 53% of adults were diagnosed but remained untreated, in Thailand 78% of adults surveyed were found to have high cholesterol and had not been diagnosed.
The snap-shot of England was undertaken in 2006, and over two-thirds of people remained undiagnosed while around a fifth were diagnosed but untreated.
Mexico did the best : diagnosing and treating nearly 60% of cases.
However experts stress that things may have moved on since the data was gathered.
Last year England announced a mass programme. In order to reach those that had previously been missed, every person aged 40 to 74 would be offered a cholesterol check by the GP.
But Dr Gregory Roth from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in the US, one of the authors of the study, says there is still more progress that could be made on a global scale : “Cholesterol-lowering medication is widely available, highly effective and can play an essential role in reducing cardiovascular disease around the world.
“Despite these facts, effective medication coverage for control of high cholesterol remains disappointingly low.”
Lifestyle measures like taking regular physical activity, eating a healthy diet and giving up smoking, can also help prevent heart disease and stroke.
And not all patients with high cholesterol will need drug treatment.