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Wednesday 3 June 2020 1:00pm

Professor Jim Mann, Co-Director of the Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research Centre (EDOR) and Director of the Healthier Lives National Science Challenge, along with EDOR member Associate Professor Rachael McLean, have contributed New Zealand data to a Nature paper on global cholesterol levels.

Professor Rod Jackson, an epidemiologist at the University of Auckland, was a member of the study design team for this project. Professors Jackson and Mann were both involved in the interpretation of data for this internationally collaborative paper, which has been published in one of the highest impact journals in the world.

In the largest ever study of its kind, the data show that global cholesterol levels are declining sharply in high income, western nations including New Zealand, but rising in low- and middle-income nations, particularly in Asia. Levels are also very high in several Pacific Island nations, with Tokelau reported as having among the highest levels worldwide.

The Nature paper used data from 102.6 million individuals and examined cholesterol levels in 200 countries, across a 39-year time period, from 1980 to 2018. The research was funded by the Wellcome Trust and the British Heart Foundation, and revealed that high cholesterol is responsible for about 3.9 million deaths worldwide. Half of these deaths happen in East, South and Southeast Asia.

In New Zealand, the average cholesterol level decreased from 6.2 mmol/L in 1989 to 5.4 mmol/L in 2008/09. Professor Mann comments on this trend:

“The fall in cholesterol in New Zealand is substantially larger than reported from many other high income countries. It has occurred in parallel with a reduction in dietary saturated fat, an increase in unsaturated fat, and a reduction in coronary disease mortality. Statin drugs will also have contributed to the fall in cholesterol and heart disease, but the encouraging trend emerged before these drugs were widely available in New Zealand.”

Despite this encouraging result, coronary heart disease remains the most common cause of death in middle-aged and older people in Aotearoa New Zealand, and policies that encourage healthy food choices are cornerstone to further reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Read the paper in Nature

Repositioning of the global epicentre of non-optimal cholesterol, Nature, 582, pages 73–77 (2020)

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