4364.0.55.005 - Australian Health Survey: Biomedical Results for Chronic Diseases, 2011-12  
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Contents >> Cardiovascular disease >> Triglycerides


Like cholesterol, triglycerides are a fatty substance in the blood. However, triglycerides work more like a type of fuel, circulating in the bloodstream to be used as energy by the cells. Research shows that high blood triglycerides are an independent risk factor for heart disease as they contribute to the development of atherosclerosis, which is the build up of fatty deposits in the blood vessels.1 High triglycerides are typically caused by a diet high in fat or kilojoules, but can also become elevated as a result of having other conditions, such as diabetes and kidney disease.

    Data source and definitions

    Triglycerides are measured using a blood test. Abnormal triglyceride levels were defined as greater than or equal to 2.0 mmol/L.

    In order to get an accurate reading for triglycerides, people were required to fast for 8 hours or more beforehand. The results presented here refer only to those people who did fast (approximately 79% of adults who participated in the National Health Measures Survey).

In 2011–12, 13.9% of people aged 18 years and over had high triglyceride levels. High triglycerides were more common among men (19.0%) than women (9.0%).

The proportion of people with high triglycerides steadily increased with age until middle adulthood, before gradually declining in older age. Overall, rates were highest among those aged 45–54 years (18.5%).

Graph Image for Persons aged 12 years and over - Proportion with high triglycerides, 2011-12

Being overweight or obese, tobacco smoking and having high blood pressure were all associated with higher levels of triglycerides. In 2011–12, overweight or obese adults were more than three times as likely to have high triglyceride levels than those who were normal weight or underweight (19.1% compared with 5.3%). Likewise, people with high blood pressure had a greater likelihood of having high triglycerides levels (20.9%) than those with normal blood pressure (11.9%). Current smokers (20.6%) and ex-smokers (15.7%) were also more likely to have high triglycerides than people who had never smoked (11.4%).

Research shows that the risk of heart disease increases when high triglycerides accompany high LDL or 'bad' cholesterol.2 In 2011–12, 54.2% of adults with high triglycerides also had high total cholesterol. People with high triglycerides also had a greater likelihood of having low levels of 'good' HDL cholesterol (45.2%) and high levels of 'bad' cholesterol (37.6%) compared with people with normal triglyceride levels (20.0% and 32.5% respectively).

High levels of triglycerides are also associated with diabetes.3 In 2011–12, people with high triglycerides were nearly three times as likely as those with normal triglycerides to have diabetes (11.5% compared with 4.1%).

Similarly, high triglycerides are a known risk factor for liver disease.4 In 2011–12, 21.5% of adults with high triglycerides had abnormal alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels (which measures liver function) compared with 9.6% of those with normal triglycerides.

For more information on triglycerides, see Tables 1, 2, 3, 4, 8. 9 and 15 on the Downloads page of this publication.


1 Talayero, BG and Sacks, FM, 2011, 'The Role of Triglycerides in Atherosclerosis', Current Cardiology Reports, <http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11886-011-0220-3#page-1>, Last accessed 24/06/2013. Back to top
2 World Heart Federation, 2013, Cardiovascular disease risk factors: Cholesterol, <http://www.world-heart-federation.org/cardiovascular-health/cardiovascular-disease-risk-factors/cholesterol/>, Last accessed 24/06/2013. Back to top
3 Tirosh, A et al. 2008, 'Changes in Triglyceride Levels Over Time and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in Young Men', Diabetes Care, <http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/31/10/2032.full, Last accessed 24/06/2013. Back to top
4 Marchesini, G et al. 2001, 'Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: A Feature of the Metabolic Syndrome', Diabetes, <http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/50/8/1844.full>, Last accessed 08/01/2013. Back to top

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