Almost half of all adults are carrying dangerously high levels of cholesterol, the hidden killer which clogs the arteries and causes heart disease.
The figure is just one in a series of shocking findings in an official study which reveals the scale of the national obesity epidemic.
The National Diet & Nutrition Survey states that 48 per cent of the adult population have blood cholesterol levels above the healthy level.
The figure rises to three out of four women - 75 per cent - aged 50 to 64 and 59 per cent of men in the same age group.
The survey points to poor diet and a lack of exercise as the cause, with many deluding themselves about how much activity they do.
High levels of the dangerous form of cholesterol - LDL - are linked to so- called trans-fats, which are used in processed foods, and the saturated fat of dairy products and red meat.
Food manufacturers removing fat
Such is the concern about trans-fats that a number of food manufacturers, including Mars, Nestlé and Kraft, are taking them out of big brand foods.
The survey, published by the Food Standards Agency, reveals that the number of men who are clinically obese has tripled in 14 years - up from 8 per cent to 25 per cent. On top of this, another 41 per cent of men are classified as overweight.
The proportion of dangerously obese women has almost doubled, rising from 12 to 20 per cent. Another 33 per cent are overweight.
Increases in heart disease and heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and cancers are all being driven by the obesity epidemic.
Only this week, Health Secretary, Dr John Reid said 30,000 lives are lost in Britain every year because of weight-related diseases.
New drugs to be sold
The Government is preparing to legalise the “over-the-counter” sale of drugs called statins which reduce cholesterol levels. This would save the Health Service millions and potentially save thousands of lives.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is essential to the health of cells. When levels stay high it causes furred-up arteries. The FSA said 70 per cent of those involved in its study claimed to be fairly or very physically active.
But the watchdog said: “Only just over a third of men and a quarter of women did enough physical activity to meet the Department of Health recommended level.”
That equates to at least 30 minutes of physical activity - such as brisk walking - at least five days a week.
The British Heart Foundation’s Associate Medical Director, Dr Tim Bowker, said: “There is clearly more to be done in terms of educating the public about heart health issues.”
The Foundation is supporting the greater availability of statins and urged those worried about their cholesterol levels to contact their GP.
The NDNS study is one of the largest and most detailed of its kind, assessing the diet, habits and health of more than 2,000 volunteers.
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Revision date: June 20, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD