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THL: More than half of Finns have elevated cholesterol levels

Cholesterol levels in Finland have declined after rising about a decade ago.

Kolesterolilääkkeen etiketti.
The use of statins and other drugs aimed at lowering cholesterol has proliferated in Finland since the 1990s, especially among older people. Image: Timo Jaakonaho / Lehtikuva

The average Finn's cholesterol level has dipped since an upturn in 2007-12 linked to low-carb diets. Still, about 55 percent of adults have total cholesterol levels that are higher than recommended, says the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

The agency surveys Finns' cholesterol levels ever five years. On Friday it released the latest data, collected in 2017.

90% consume too much saturated fat

The average cholesterol level of both women and men aged 25-64 was 5.2 millimoles per litre. The THL recommends a level of no more than five millimoles per litre.

THL notes that high cholesterol is one of the most crucial risk factors for heart and cardiovascular diseases. Meanwhile fat in one's diet has the biggest impact on one's cholesterol level, and a third of Finns consume more fat than recommended. When it comes to saturated fat, nine-tenths of the population exceed recommended levels.

"On a population-wide level, saturated fats should not account for more than 10 percent of overall caloric intake. Besides people's individual food choices, this requires major production changes in agriculture and the food industry," says THL research manager Liisa Valsta.

THL calls for more medication

Average cholesterol levels in Finland have declined since the 1970s, when they were at a record high. Levels went down until 2007, but then rose slightly for about five years. At that time there was much discussion of low-carbohydrate diets, the THL points out.

The institute says that the lower average cholesterol level has been the main reason for a decline in coronary heart disease. Despite this improvement, it argues that cholesterol medication could still be increased, especially for individuals who have several risk factors for heart disease.

"Far too many of them have high cholesterol. Both nutritional counselling and medical treatment should be stepped up," said Research Professor Tiina Laatikainen in a statement on Friday.

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