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Ignoring your high cholesterol? You're not alone

A prescription bottle label of Pfizer's Lipitor.
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A prescription bottle label of Pfizer's Lipitor.

Many Americans could be doing more to lower their bad cholesterol levels, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

Nearly half of adults who are eligible for cholesterol-lowering medications are not taking them, the CDC said in a new study released Thursday. Most of the people in this risk group also haven't made lifestyle changes such as getting regular exercise, eating a heart-healthy diet and losing weight, the report said.

A high blood level of LDL, or "bad," cholesterol is a major risk factor for stroke and heart disease — an ailment that accounts for 1 in every 3 deaths in the U.S., the agency said.

More than 78 million people — almost 37 percent of U.S. adults — fall into the group sampled by the CDC and are either taking or could be taking cholesterol-lowering medications. To be eligible for the medications, a person must have heart disease, a prior heart attack or some types of stroke, or angina; LDL cholesterol levels of 190 milligrams per deciliter or more; be age 40 to 75 with LDL cholesterol levels of 70-189 mg/dL; and have diabetes or risk of heart disease.

"This study reveals opportunities to reduce existing disparities through targeted patient education and cholesterol management programs," Carla Mercado, a CDC scientist, said in a statement.