Lowering the High Health Cost of Cholesterol

Cardiovascular disease remains stubbornly at the top of the mortality list in the United States. One big reason? Cholesterol. According to the CDC, about 30% of U.S. adults have high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad” cholesterol). Fewer than half are on a treatment plan to lower those levels. More than 30 million Americans have total cholesterol levels greater than 240 mg/dl, which greatly increases their risk for heart disease and stroke.

The cost of cholesterol-lowering drugs, called “statins”, is big business. Consumer Reports stated that statins and their related combinations generated $16.9 billion in U.S. sales in 2012. One single drug, Crestor, accounted for $5.1 billion on its own. The American Heart Association has estimated that the cost for cardiovascular disease topped $320 billion in 2011, including $124 billion in indirect costs from lost future productivity (premature death). Cholesterol is not the only culprit here—high blood pressure, obesity, and smoking all increase the risk for heart disease.

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The CDC has named September “National Cholesterol Education Month”, and employers have an important role to play. Health screening and wellness programs can encourage workers to find out their numbers and make therapeutic lifestyle changes like eating a lower-fat diet, exercising regularly, losing weight, and quitting smoking. (Reminder to employers: wellness programs and this type of screening must be voluntary and may not be punitive.) Make sure your employees have the tools available to take control of their health and lower their cholesterol levels. It’s good for them and for your business.