According to the World Health Organisation, 54% of Europeans have high cholesterol, including 133.3m people in the EU’s five biggest countries (Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the UK) – and the numbers are increasing.
European parliamentarians Roberta Metsola (EPP) and Marlene Mizzi (S&D) highlighted the potential harm from high blood cholesterol levels across Europe and accused the EU of not doing enough to tackle the problem.
“Does the Commission plan to take action to ensure that the problem is addressed? If so, what initiatives does the Commission envisage?” asked Metsola.
Mizzi asked what measures the Commission was taking and what recommendations had been made to prevent high cholesterol levels. “How have these been implemented at national level?” she asked.
Most high cholesterol is a result of dietary choices, particularly overconsumption of saturated fat, the Commission said, with the exception of an inherited disease called familial hypercholesterolemia.
Health eating & research
Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, said the Commission supported several initiatives to promote healthy eating alongside Member States, including actions to reduce saturated fat intake.
In addition, he said the Commission supported research focused on cholesterol, including 12 EU-funded projects for a total of €30m.
“These projects address such issues as the molecular mechanisms of disturbed cholesterol and lipid metabolism, the search for new drug targets for dyslipidaemia, and the development of new treatment modes in clinical trials,” he said.
He added: “The High Level Group on Nutrition and Physical Activity agreed in 2011 on an EU framework on the reduction of selected nutrients and Member States work has been progressing on reducing saturated fat intake.
“…Under the scope of the EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health(4), stakeholders' voluntary commitments on food reformulation have also played a role in improving the diet of European citizens, including by reducing fat content.”
Dietary cholesterol vs. blood cholesterol
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) decided in 2010 that it was not necessary to publish a recommended limit for dietary cholesterol alongside saturated fat limits to reduce levels of blood LDL (low-density lipoprotein, or ‘bad’) cholesterol – although a debate on this issue is ongoing in the United States.
“Although there is a positive dose-dependent relationship between the intake of dietary cholesterol with blood LDL cholesterol concentrations, the main dietary determinant of blood LDL cholesterol concentrations is saturated fat intake,” EFSA wrote in its opinion at the time.
The United States currently is revising its official dietary guidelines and looks set to omit a warning on dietary cholesterol. This is thought to follow a growing body of research linking high blood cholesterol levels with high saturated fat consumption, rather than with intakes of dietary cholesterol. Current US guidelines recommend limiting cholesterol to 300 mg per day – while a single egg yolk contains about 200 mg.
Members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee are forbidden from commenting on the report until after publication, expected within the coming weeks.