Prevalence of Low High-density Lipoprotein Cholesterol Among Adults, by Physical Activity: United States, 2011-2014

Questions for Marissa L. Zwald, Ph.D., M.P.H., Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer and Lead Author on “Prevalence of Low High-density Lipoprotein Cholesterol Among Adults, by Physical Activity: United States, 2011-2014

Q: Why did you conduct this study?

MZ: We produced this report because we wanted to offer statistics that highlight how regular physical activity can reduce illness from chronic diseases and premature death. In 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services released the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. We wanted to provide the most recent national estimates of low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (or serum HDL cholesterol less than 40 mg/dL) by whether or not adults met these national physical activity guidelines, and to understand how these patterns differed by sex, age, race and Hispanic origin, and education level.


Q: What caused you to focus your report on low HDL cholesterol and physical activity?

MZ: HDL cholesterol is known as the “good” cholesterol because having high levels can reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease. We know from previous research that regular physical activity can help increase HDL cholesterol levels.


Q: Was there a result in your study’s analysis that you hadn’t expected and that really surprised you?

MZ: The differences among some subgroups that we examined were quite striking. Our study confirmed that less active adults were more likely to have low HDL cholesterol. Interestingly, differences in low HDL cholesterol by physical activity were more pronounced in some subgroups we examined, including older adults (aged 60 and over), non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks, and college graduates. More in-depth research is needed to explore why the association between physical activity and low HDL cholesterol levels is stronger for some groups than others.


Q: What differences, if any, did you see among race and ethnic groups?

MZ: Among non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black adults, low HDL cholesterol prevalence was significantly higher among those who did not meet the physical activity guidelines compared with those who met the guidelines.


Q: What is the take home message of this report?

MZ: I think the take home message of this report is that while sex and age can affect HDL cholesterol levels, there are also lifestyle changes that can improve HDL levels – and this includes being physically active and meeting the national physical activity guidelines.

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