(CBS/AP) Health officials say only 13 percent of U.S. adults have high total cholesterol, an impressive number for a country where two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its latest cholesterol report Tuesday. The numbers come from interviews and blood tests of nearly than 6,000 U.S. adults in 2009 and 2010.
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance in the blood. Too much total cholesterol is a risk for heart disease. There are two types of cholesterol that contribute to the overall number: High-density lipoproteins (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, and Low-density lipoproteins (LDL), known as "bad" cholesterol that can build up in arteries.
The government set a goal that no more than 17 percent of adults have high total cholesterol. The goal was achieved about five years ago for women and more than ten years ago for men.
What's behind the latest drop?
Experts believe it's largely because so many Americans take cholesterol-lowering drugs, but dropping smoking rates and other factors also contributed.
Dr. Gordon Tomaselli, president of the American Heart Association, told WebMD previous studies of adults aged 65 and over showed that between 2001 and 2006, LDL cholesterol levels and that paralleled an increased use for cholesterol-lowering statin drugs.
"As the CDC researchers delve further into this data, they will likely find the same thing is going on," he said. More than 255 million prescriptions for statins were filled in 2010, up from 210 million in 2006, WebMD reported.
Other likely factors include more people eating healthier and exercising, CDC epidemiologist Cynthia Ogden told Reuters.
Or maybe more Americans are eating dark chocolate. A new study has found people who ate 50 grams of dark chocolate daily reduced their LDL cholesterol and increased their HDL cholesterol more than people who ate white chocolate,
The National Institutes of Health has more on managing cholesterol.