Skip to main content

Publication, Part of

Health Survey for England, 2021 part 2

Official statistics, National statistics, Survey

National Statistics

Adults' health: Cholesterol

Raised total cholesterol


Cholesterol is a fatty substance (also referred to as a lipid) found in the blood and is needed by the body to function. There are different types of cholesterol including LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol, VLDL (very low density lipoprotein) cholesterol, and HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol.

HDL cholesterol is beneficial, as it carries cholesterol away from the arteries back to the liver, where it can be excreted. Too much non-HDL cholesterol is harmful as it can clog blood vessels, causing them to become stiff and narrow, reducing blood flow. High cholesterol is a significant risk factor for CVD, including narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis), heart attack (Peters et al, 2016) and stroke (Law, Wald and Rudnicka, 2003).

Methods and definitions


In HSE, cholesterol levels were measured via blood samples taken at the nurse visit.

Measuring cholesterol

The prevalence of raised total cholesterol is presented for years 1998, 2003, 2006, 2011, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021. Values from 2011 and 2014 have been adjusted to make the measurements comparable to measurements made before HSE 2010, when there was a change in calibrators. A further change in calibrators in 2015 resulted in equivalence between current measurement and those prior to 2010. 

Full details of the HSE blood sample protocols, analytical methods and equipment can be found in the HSE 2021 Methods report.


Raised total cholesterol is defined as total cholesterol equal to or greater than 5mmol/L. No distinction is made between different types of cholesterol.

Raised total cholesterol, by age and sex

In 2021, the prevalence of raised total cholesterol was 59%.

The overall difference in prevalence between men (56%) and women (61%) was not statistically significant. Though some differences are apparent between men and women in different age groups, these are in different directions and therefore make the figures for all ages combined closer.

The prevalence of raised cholesterol differed by age and was highest among those aged between 45 and 64 (72%).

Among adults aged 16 to 44, men (53%) were more likely than women (46%) to have raised cholesterol. In older age groups, the prevalence of raised cholesterol was higher among women. 77% of women aged 45 to 64 and 65% aged 65 and over had raised cholesterol. Among men, 67% aged 45 to 64 and 48% of those aged 65 and over had raised cholesterol.

For more information: Table 8

Raised total cholesterol, by equivalised household income

The proportions of adults with raised cholesterol were similar across equivalised household income tertiles.

For more information: Table 9

Raised total cholesterol, by area deprivation

The proportions of adults with raised cholesterol were similar across the IMD quintiles.

For more information: Table 10

Last edited: 16 May 2023 9:31 am