Health Screening Finds High Cholesterol, Blood Glucose Among Western New Yorkers

By Lois Baker

Release Date: February 7, 1996 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- An informal health screening of 1,500 area residents, conducted by the University at Buffalo professor who heads the Diabetes-Endocrinology Center of Western New York, provides a glimpse of the health of Western New Yorkers and it isn’t a pretty sight -- lots of cholesterol and blood sugar and many thyroid problems.

The center, headquartered at Millard Fillmore Hospital at Gates Circle, conducted the screenings last fall at Wegmans Supermarkets in Hamburg, Cheektowaga and Amherst. Center staff collected blood samples from anyone who volunteered and had them tested at the hospital’s lab for levels of cholesterol, thyroid stimulating hormone(TSH) -- an indicator of thyroid activity -- and glucose, an indicator of potential diabetes.

Paresh Dandona, UB professor of medicine and director of the center and the screening project, compiled results of the tests to develop a health profile of the group. The analysis showed that:

• 63 percent of participants had abnormally high cholesterol levels (more than 200 mg/dL), and nearly one-fourth had levels above 240 mg/dL.

• Nearly 9 percent showed glucose levels higher than 140 mg/dL, an indicator of possible diabetes, and 3 percent had levels greater than 200, which indicates active diabetes.

Dandona acknowledged that because participants were volunteers, the screening results can’t be applied to the Western New York population at large. But, he said, they can serve as an alert to potential public-health problems ahead. Some readings were especially high, even for a non-random sample. A specialist in diabetes research, Dandona took particular note of the incidence of high blood glucose.

“About 14 million people in the U.S. have glucose levels higher than 140, which is about 5.6 percent of the population,” Dandona said. “Among our participants we got more than 8 percent, which is phenomenally high, even compared to my expectations.”

One piece of data from the screening that is scientifically valid, as well as eye-opening, Dandona stated, is evidence of a possible connection between thyroid function and high cholesterol.

“We found in this population that as cholesterol rises, so does the level of TSH. People with very high TSH also had very high cholesterol. We’re now investigating this further.”

The screening project began as little more than an interesting exercise. Dandona now is excited about its potential. “A fun thing has turned out to be important and useful,” he said.

Results of the blood tests were sent to all participants and their physicians. Several participants now are being treated for conditions revealed by the screening. Dandona’s own blood test showed a previously-undiagnosed underactive thyroid and he has been on medication since.

The health picture painted by the screening captured the attention of the County Health Department, which contacted Dandona to find out how the county can support the project and help it expand. Discussions are underway with the county, which may become involved in the second screening, set for May.

Dandona said he would like to see the screening take place annually, in collaboration with the county. He hopes to expand his survey to include the African-American and Hispanic communities in future screenings.

“High cholesterol and diabetes are risk factors for cardiovascular disease,” Dandona said. “Medicaid bills are paid by the county, so they have a definite interest in the health of their constituents. ”

The Diabetes-Endocrinology Center of Western New York is the only nationally-listed atherosclerosis prevention clinic in Western New York, and it is one of only four such centers in New York State. In operation for nine months, the center also is involved in diabetes prevention, treatment and research and conducts studies of other diseases of the endocrine system.