Over a QUARTER of 20-somethings have high cholesterol: Massive study lays bare true scale of UK’s ill health as ‘shocked’ experts blame society’s reliance on takeaways and processed food
- Study of over 220k Brits found cholesterol levels were high in younger groups
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More than a quarter of 20-somethings now have high cholesterol, a massive study suggests.
Experts today admitted they were ‘shocked’ at how unhealthy Britain is on the back of the NHS-backed project.
Analysis involving just over 220,000 Brits revealed swathes are unknowingly living with high blood pressure or cholesterol.
Both are major causes of heart attacks and strokes.
Yet both are easily treated with drugs and lifestyle changes, such as losing weight and giving up smoking.
Results from the Our Future Health project demonstrating levels of high cholesterol in the population based on a sample of 227,592 volunteers. Source: Our Future Health
Experts warn Britain’s live of a cheeky takeaway could be behind a worrying trend where younger groups of Brits are developing high cholesterol levels traditionally seen in older demographics
Two-thirds (67 per cent) of 50-somethings had high cholesterol — making them the generation most likely to have blocked blood vessels.
This was higher than the results for Brits in their 60s (63 per cent), 70s (48 per cent), and 80s (39 per cent).
Traditionally high cholesterol risk increased with age, peaking in the 60s and 70s.
Obesity experts blamed society’s reliance on takeaways and processed foods for the shift.
Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum, told The Daily Telegraph: ‘We are seeing increasingly worrying consequences for a generation which has grown reliant on highly processed foods and regular takeaways.
WHAT IS HIGH CHOLESTEROL?
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is vital for the normal functioning of the body.
But too much can cause it to build up in the arteries, restricting blood flow to the heart, brain and rest of the body.
This raises the risk of angina, heart attacks, stroke and blood clots.
Cholesterol is made in the liver and is carried in the blood by proteins.
The first – high-density lipoprotein (HDL) – carries cholesterol from cells to the liver where it is broken down or passed as waste. This is ‘good cholesterol’.
‘Bad cholesterol’ – low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – carries cholesterol to cells, with excessive amounts then building in the artery walls.
High cholesterol can be genetic but it is also linked to a diet rich in saturated fat, as well as smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure and a family history of stroke or heart disease.
Blood cholesterol is measured in units called millimoles per litre of blood, often shortened to mmol/L.
A healthy adult’s overall level should be 5mmol/L or less, while their LDL level should be no more than 3mmol/L. An ideal level of HDL is above 1mmol/L.
Cholesterol can be lowered by eating a healthy, low-fat diet; not smoking; and exercising regularly.
If these do not help, cholesterol-lowering medication like statins may be prescribed.
‘We’ve already seen these trends having an impact on staggering obesity levels, now we can see it on cholesterol.
‘Separate research has already linked high cholesterol in your 50s and 60s to other conditions such as Alzheimer’s, so we really need to act to overhaul the deadly risks facing today’s 50-somethings.’
Figures from the Our Future Health project also revealed 27 per cent of adults aged 18-29 had high cholesterol.
This rose to 43 per cent for 30-somethings and 57 per cent for Brits in their 40s.
Rates were also higher in women (62 per cent vs 46 per cent in men).
High cholesterol is where people have too much of the fatty substance in their blood and is mainly caused by poor diet combined with a lack of exercise.
Having high cholesterol contributes to over 7 per cent of all deaths in England alone, and affects up to 60 per cent of all adults.
Volunteers were given blood pressure and cholesterol checks, with participants also giving permission for their DNA and blood samples to be used in future studies.
Sir John Bell, Our Future Health chair and medical expert from Oxford University, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he was ‘shocked’ at the prevalence of hidden serious health problems in the population.
‘When we looked at the first 100,000 people we put through this system we found that actually over half had cholesterol levels that should’ve been treated and hadn’t,’ he said.
‘They included people who were actually quite young.
‘We do know that heart disease in some people starts very young, in their 20s, and I think what we are doing is picking up some of that.’
People with high cholesterol are first asked by medics to make changes to their lifestyle, like improving diet and exercise, to bring their levels down.
However, if these measures fail to achieve results, patients can be prescribed statins to help bring cholesterol under control.
Statins are now one of the most commonly taken drugs in the UK, with between 7-8million people taking them.
Other drugs — like ACE (Angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitors — are also offered to patients with high blood pressure.
Unlike with cholesterol, the project found blood pressure readings gradually jumped with age.
Around two thirds of over-16s in England (64 per cent) are overweight, including tens of thousands who are morbidly obese. This is an 11 per cent rise on 1993, when 53 per cent were considered overweight. Experts blame sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diets. Source: Health Survey for England 2021
Just 12 per cent of 18-29 year olds had hypertension, compared with 46 per cent of Brits in their 80s.
The findings come after the World Health Organization last year warned that the rise of ‘Deliveroo lifestyles’ will make Britain the fattest country in Europe within a decade.
Health officials have previously warned meal delivery apps are fuelling an obesity crisis by encouraging over-eating and physical inactivity.
Brits’ reliance on such apps rose during the pandemic where people became hooked on having food dropped at their door after being ordered to stay at home.
An estimated 65 per cent of British adults are currently too fat, compared to about 50 per cent in the 90s, with rates expected to increase even more in the future.
Childhood obesity has also seen a similar trend.
Nationally, one in 10 youngsters are now obese by the time they start Reception, rising to one in five by the time they reach Year 6.
The Our Future Health research project is hoping to recruit a total of 5million adults to take part in its studies and help who is at higher risk of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, dementia and stroke.
People willing to join can sign up online where they then be asked to attend an appointment to take measurements about their health.
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