The results of a telephone Gallup poll with 1500 US adults in late 2003 discovered serious misconceptions about several common tests aimed at the early detection of disease. For example, there appears to be a serious "age gap" in cholesterol-screening awareness. The pollsters reported that, although a majority of adults over age 40 now get their blood cholesterol levels checked routinely, most under 40 do notdespite expert recommendations that all individuals over age 20 get tested every 5 years.
Also, the survey found that 42% of men and 29% of women under 40 believe that they never need to get tested. Michael S. Lauer, MD, a heart expert at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, stressed that early screening can prevent problems later in life. During adolescence, blood cholesterol levels are linked "to the development of vascular disease in young and middle-aged adults," he said. "So the argument is made that by knowing cholesterol levels at a young age, one can potentially change lifestyle habits that might be of benefit later on down the line."
When participants were polled about whether physicians are encouraging younger patients to get tested, 71% of the men under 40 and 67% of women under 40 replied "no." The result does not come as a surprise to Dr. Lauer. "From the point of view of many doctors, as well as patients, they'd say, ?At this point in my life the risk is very low, so is it really critical that we have to check this right now?'"