Adult women are more than twice as likely to know how much they weighed in high school than they are to know their current cholesterol number, and only half have had their cholesterol tested in the past year, according to results of a nationwide survey.

The survey, conducted by the Society for Women's Health Research, a Washington, D.C.--based advocacy organization, found that 79 percent of women know how much they weighed in high school but less than one-third (32 percent) know their current cholesterol number. Of the women who had a recent cholesterol test, only 57 percent could actually recall their number.

A Major Disconnect

Data from the survey suggest a major disconnect between women understanding the risks associated with high cholesterol and actually taking action to monitor and control it.

A majority of the women surveyed (63 percent) said they are concerned that high cholesterol will be a health concern during their lifetime, and almost 60 percent of women said they are actively trying to manage their cholesterol. Nearly nine out of 10 women surveyed (88 percent) know that high cholesterol is linked to hardening of the arteries and heart disease, and almost as many women (85 percent) know high cholesterol can lead to stroke.

"Clearly, strides have been made in educating women on the risks of high cholesterol, but the disconnect between awareness and action needs to be addressed," said Phyllis Greenberger, president and CEO of the Society for Women's Health Research. "Knowing your cholesterol number is the first step in controlling cholesterol. That number is certainly more important than what you weighed in high school."

More Findings

As for ways to help control cholesterol, nearly all women understand that exercise and eating fruit, vegetables, and low-fat foods can contribute to heart health. In addition, 94 percent of the women surveyed know that prescription statin drugs can help lower cholesterol if diet and exercise aren't totally effective.

Other findings of the telephone survey of 524 women include:

  • One in three women don't know that women can exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet, but still have dangerously high cholesterol levels.
  • Women with a family history of high cholesterol are only slightly more likely than the general population to say they are actively trying to manage their cholesterol levels.
  • More than one-third of women were surprised to learn that high cholesterol has no symptoms.
  • Less than four in 10 women know any of the four key numbers for monitoring cholesterol: total, LDL "bad," HDL "good," and triglycerides, the level of fat in your blood.
  • Nearly all women believe that some cholesterol is good, yet only a third of women correctly identified HDL as the "good" kind. An equal number got it wrong.
  • Nearly three out of four women are equally concerned about developing heart disease and breast cancer, but slightly less than half knew that heart disease kills six times as many women as breast cancer.

Expert Recommendations.

More than 102 million American adults, or about 50 percent, have elevated blood cholesterol levels, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's National Cholesterol Education Program. The institute and the American Heart Association recommend that people 20 and older get their cholesterol checked at least once every five years. A desirable level of total cholesterol is less than 200.

Elevated levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol, which deposits on the inside of your blood vessels to make plaque, increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. An optimal level of LDL is less than 100.

HDL ("good") cholesterol decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease. For women, an HDL less than 50 is considered a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.