HealthDay News — A combination of good diet, good medicine and healthy living seem to be paying off for U.S. adults — cholesterol levels and related lipids have dropped steadily in the past two decades, even among the obese and those not taking lipid-lowering drugs, study results show. 

From 1988 to 2010, average total LDL and non-HDL cholesterol declined 10 to 13 mg/dL in a linear fashion (P<0.001 for all), Margaret Carroll, MSPH, of the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics in Hyattsville, Md., and colleagues reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

During this time period, average HDL cholesterol level increased by 1.8 mg/dL (P=0.001), and mean triglyceride levels decreased from 123 mg/dL in 1999-2002 to 110 mg/dL in 2007-2010 (P<0.001).

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The researchers attribute the improvements to decreased trans fat and carbohydrate consumption, as well as lower rates of cigarette smoking.

Although the number of patients taking cholesterol lowering medications increased from 3.4% to 15.5% (P<0.001) during the study period, improvements in lipid levels were observed even for adults who were not taking these medications, the researchers noted.

The analysis was based on serum lipid trends from three National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, which included data from 16,573 adults in the 1988 to 1994 survey; 9,471 from 1999 to 2002; and 11,766 from 2007 to 2010.

From 1988 to 2010, the researcher identified the following trends:

  • Mean total cholesterol decreased from 206 to 196 mg/dL.
  • Mean LDL cholesterol decreased from 129 to 116 mg/dL.
  • Mean non-HDL cholesterol decreased from 155 to 144 mg/dL.
  • Mean HDL cholesterol significantly increased from 50.7 to 52.5 mg/dL.
  • Mean serum triglyceride levels increased from 118 mg/dL in 1988-1994 to 123 mg/dL in 1999-2002 and then decreased to 110 mg/dL in 2007-2010.

These trends were consistent among both men and women and across racial and ethnic groups, with the exception of Mexican American men, whose total cholesterol levels did not change, and non-Hispanic blacks and Mexican Americans, whose HDL cholesterol levels did not change during the study period.


  1. Carroll M et al. JAMA. 2012; 308:1545-1554.