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December 1990

Impact of a Public Cholesterol Screening Program

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Family Medicine (Drs Fischer, Burke, and Richards and Ms Guinan) and Pediatrics (Dr Karp), Medical College of Georgia, Augusta.

Arch Intern Med. 1990;150(12):2567-2572. doi:10.1001/archinte.1990.00390230107015

• The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) has endorsed physician case finding as the primary method to detect individuals with elevated cholesterol levels. Despite this recommendation, promotional and for-profit public screening programs have flourished. We surveyed participants of a mall-based cholesterol screening program 1 year after their screening. Sixty-four percent of those screened had not previously known their cholesterol levels. Those who were newly screened were less likely to benefit from this testing than the general public, since they were older (mean age, 55.3 years), more likely to be female (67.4%), and nonsmokers (88%). Screenees had excellent recall of their cholesterol level (mean absolute reporting error, 0.24 mmol/L [9 mg/dL]) and a good understanding of cholesterol as a coronary heart disease risk. Those with elevated cholesterol levels reported high distress from screening but no reduction in overall psychosocial well-being and an actual decrease in absenteeism. Only 53.7% of all who were advised to seek follow-up because of an elevated screening value had done so within the year following the screening program. However, of those with values greater than 6.2 mmol/L (240 mg/dL), 68% had sought follow-up. Many of those who participate in public screening programs have been previously tested, fall into low-benefit groups, or fail to comply with recommended follow-up. We therefore conclude that cholesterol screening programs of the type now commonly offered are unlikely to contribute greatly to the national efforts to further reduce coronary heart disease.

(Arch Intern Med. 1990;150:2567-2572)