1 in 3 Australians have high cholesterol: survey

08 August, 2013

The National Heart Foundation of Australia is calling on the federal government to fund a national vascular health check program after a landmark biomedical survey showed 5.6 million Australian adults (32.8 per cent) have unmanaged high blood cholesterol.

The results, from the Australian Bureau of Statistics Australian Health Survey: Biomedical Results for Chronic Diseases, 2011-12 released in Canberra recently, also revealed: there are a further 3.3 million Australians at risk of having high blood cholesterol with between 5 mmol/l to 5.5mmol/l; there are 1.3 million Australian adults with both unmanaged high blood cholesterol and unmanaged high blood pressure; that 46.1 per cent of Australians aged 45 to 64 have high blood cholesterol; high cholesterol was higher among smokers (38.1 per cent), people overweight/obese (37.3 per cent), those with high blood pressure(40.8 per cent) and those in rural (36.7 per cent); and the prevalence of high cholesterol is highest in TAS (39.4 per cent), SA(35.0), WA(34.7).

The Heart Foundation's National CEO, Dr Lyn Roberts, said the results formed part of the largest and most comprehensive survey ever conducted in Australia and the first ongoing biomedical survey since the Heart Foundation conducted its own surveys in the 1980s.

"Until today, we have had to rely on data for high blood cholesterol that is more than 12 years old," Dr Roberts said.

"Disturbingly, only one in ten of the 5.6 million Australians with high blood cholesterol know they have it.

"High cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke and peripheral vascular disease and having multiple risk factors places you at higher risk."

Dr Roberts said Australia needed more routine vascular health checks to identify people at high risk of heart attacks, strokes, and chronic disease.

"In New Zealand, 60 per cent of the eligible population (generally those aged 45 and over) have had a heart and diabetes check in the past five years," he said.

"They are now moving towards a target of 90 per cent during 2014.

"Australia is a long way behind our neighbour, with some estimates showing only 5 per cent of Australians are getting a heart health check by their doctor.

"We have well-developed guidelines for GPs to conduct these checks.  But we need the federal government to drive implementation.

"These checks will not only save lives and prevent disease. They will also reduce avoidable hospital admissions."

Cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic kidney disease together account for almost two thirds of all deaths and a quarter of the burden of disease in Australia.

Cardiovascular disease alone is the leading killer of Australians and a major cause of premature death and avoidable hospital admissions. But it's also the most expensive disease in terms of direct healthcare costs — 11 per cent of total costs or $7.9bn.

"These disturbing survey results show action is needed now," Dr Roberts said.

The biomedical survey was conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and funded by the Department of Health and Ageing and the Heart Foundation.

Voluntary blood and urine samples were tested from 11,000 survey respondents across the country.