[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 24-Sep-2009
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Contact: Marc Kaplan
marc.kaplan@uphs.upenn.edu
215-662-2560
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Use of statins favors the wealthy, creating new social disparities in cholesterol

PHILADELPHIA -- Since the introduction of statins to treat high cholesterol, the decline in lipid levels experienced by the wealthy has been double that experienced by the poor. While statins are highly effective in reducing cholesterol and improving heart health, their use may have contributed to expanding social disparities in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, according to research by Virginia W. Chang, MD, PhD, of the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the University of Pennsylvania, and Diane S. Lauderdale, PhD, of the University of Chicago, published in the September issue of Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

"Income disparities in lipid levels have reversed over the past three decades," according to Dr. Chang, lead author and Assistant Professor of Medicine and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. "High cholesterol was once known as a rich man's disease, because the wealthy had easier access to high fat foods (e.g., red meat). Now wealthy Americans are least likely to have high cholesterol, because they are more likely to be treated with statins, an expensive but highly effective pharmaceutical treatment to lower lipid levels."

While cardiovascular disease remains a leading cause of death in the U.S., mortality due to heart disease has declined dramatically since the 1980s. Researchers estimate that about one-third of that reduction is a result of pharmaceutical innovation, including the use of statins. Dr. Chang notes, "Though statins have a longer-run potential to reduce disparities by making it easier for everyone to lower cholesterol relative to lifestyle changes, they have yet to diffuse widely across all income levels."

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This study was supported in part by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

PENN Medicine is a $3.6 billion enterprise dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. PENN Medicine consists of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Penn's School of Medicine is currently ranked #3 in the nation in U.S.News & World Report's survey of top research-oriented medical schools; and, according to the National Institutes of Health, received over $366 million in NIH grants (excluding contracts) in the 2008 fiscal year. Supporting 1,700 fulltime faculty and 700 students, the School of Medicine is recognized worldwide for its superior education and training of the next generation of physician-scientists and leaders of academic medicine.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System (UPHS) includes its flagship hospital, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, rated one of the nation's top ten "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S.News & World Report; Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation's first hospital; and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, named one of the nation's "100 Top Hospitals" for cardiovascular care by Thomson Reuters. In addition UPHS includes a primary-care provider network; a faculty practice plan; home care, hospice, and nursing home; three multispecialty satellite facilities; as well as the Penn Medicine at Rittenhouse campus, which offers comprehensive inpatient rehabilitation facilities and outpatient services in multiple specialties.



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