4363.0.55.001 - Australian Health Survey: Users' Guide, 2011-13  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 11/12/2013   
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Cholesterol is a type of fat that circulates in the blood. It is essential for many metabolic processes, including the production of hormones and building cells.1 Total cholesterol includes 'good' cholesterol (High Density Lipoprotein (HDL)), which prevent blockages in the circulatory system; 'bad' cholesterol (Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL)), which can leave fatty deposits in the arteries; and other lipid components.2 High levels of total cholesterol may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

The total cholesterol test measures the combined amount of lipid (fat) components circulating in the blood at the time of the test.


Total cholesterol results were obtained for selected persons aged 12 years and over, who agreed to participate in the National Health Measures Survey (NHMS) and provided a blood sample. Fasting was not required for this test.


A blood sample was collected from participants and total cholesterol levels were measured at the Douglass Hanly Moir (DHM) laboratory.

In the NHMS, cut off reference values for normal and abnormal results were sourced from the 2001 lipid management guidelines3 and subsequently the 2005 position statement4 on lipid management by the National Heart Foundation Australia and the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand (NHFA/CSANZ). These guidelines are based on epidemiological data and publications of major clinical trials.

In the NHMS, the following definitions were used for serum total cholesterol:

  • Normal total cholesterol levels < 5.5 mmol/L
  • Abnormal total cholesterol levels ≥ 5.5 mmol/L.

Further test information about the analysis method and machine used to measure total cholesterol levels is available in Excel spreadsheet format in the Downloads page of this product.

Data items

The data items and related output categories for this topic are available in Excel spreadsheet format from the Downloads page of this product.


Points to be considered when interpreting data for this topic include the following:
  • Total cholesterol results do not confirm a specific diagnosis without consultation with a health professional.
  • Age, gender and taking lipid lowering medications are all variables that may affect lipid and lipoprotein levels.5 As a result, the data should be interpreted with care.
  • There are a number of different test methods for measuring total cholesterol, which may produce different results. The data from this topic should therefore be used with caution when comparing total cholesterol results from other studies using a different test method or equation.
Comparability with other surveys

The NHMS is the first ABS survey to collect biomedical data on cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol data has been collected in other non-ABS surveys. However, caution must be taken when interpreting results due to the differences in scope, assay and the instrument used, and any thresholds applied in the final analysis. Further information about these comparisons is available from the Comparisons with other Australian surveys section of the Biomedical Results for Chronic Diseases, 2011-12 publication.


1 Better Health Channel, 2013, Cholesterol, <http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Cholesterol_explained>, Last accessed 22/10/2013.
2 National Heart Foundation of Australia, 2013, Cholesterol, <http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/NAHU-Cholesterol.pdf>, Last accessed 08/07/2013.
3 National Heart Foundation of Australia and the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand, 2001, Lipid Management Guidelines - 2001, <http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/Lipid-management-guidelines.pdf>, Last accessed 22/10/2013.
4 National Heart Foundation of Australia and the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand, 2005, Position Statement on Lipid Management - 2005, <http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/sitecollectiondocuments/the-lipid-position-statement.pdf>, Last accessed 22/10/2013.
5 Appleton CA, Caldwell G, McNeil A, Meerkin M, Sikaris K, Sullivan DR, Thomas DW, and DP Tognarini, Australian Pathology Lipid Interest Group, 2007, Recommendations for Lipid Testing and Reporting by Australian Pathology Laboratories, <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1904423/>, Last accessed 22/10/2013.

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