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Three state organizations have mounted a statewide effort to educate Utahns about cholesterol, a major contributor to cardiovascular disease - America's No. 1 killer.

Sponsored by the Utah Department of Health, the American Heart Association's Utah Division and the Utah Medical Association, the three-tiered program will focus on physician education, screening clinics and patient awareness - particularly diet information.Dr. Brett Lazar, director of the health department's Division of Community Health Services, said in most cases diet is the first step to lower an elevated cholesterol level, unless the person has an extremely high level that can be assumed to be genetically caused.

Then the physician may decide to prescribe medication as well. "But people started on medication to lower blood cholesterol are committed to a lifetime of drugs, and these drugs are not without side effects," he said.

In his travels around the state, Lazar is recommending prevention techniques for the general public.

He advises that everyone over age 20 have a cholesterol test. Depending on the result of that test, future checks are determined.

"If the first check is normal and there is no family history of elevated cholesterol, then a person probably doesn't need to have it checked again for 5 years," Lazar said. "If, on the other hand, a person has an elevated cholesterol, then the doctor would recommend a more frequent schedule of checks and also suggest that the person look carefully at his diet."

Whether or not their cholesterol levels are elevated, Lazar said, all people can do a number of things to reduce the saturated fats and cholesterol in their diets.

The three health organizations recommend diet modifications to lower blood cholesterol. The chart to the left summarizes the "good eating, good nutrition" diet plan.