Serum lipids and modernization in coastal and highland Papua New Guinea

Allison M. Hodge, Gary K. Dowse, Rajiv T. Erasmus, Raymond A. Spark, Kathy Nathaniel, Paul Z. Zimmet, Michael P. Alpers

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Previous studies in Melanesians of Papua New Guinea have documented low serum cholesterol concentrations with no age-related rise and a virtual absence of coronary heart disease. However, because of recent reports of the emergence of coronary heart disease in this population, serum lipid concentrations in adults aged ≤25 years in three coastal (n = 1,489) and three highland (n = 388) village communities at different stages of modernization were examined as part of a survey undertaken in 1991. Total cholesterol concentrations were clearly higher than were levels recorded in earlier studies. Moreover, age-related increases in total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL cholesterol), high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL cholesterol), and triglycerides (in women) were apparent. Mean total cholesterol levels in an urban community with a high risk of diabetes were similar to those observed in Australians, while HDL cholesterol concentrations were lower. Total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels were higher in urban coastal and periurban highland subjects than in their rural counterparts. Prevalence of hypercholesterolemia (≤5.2 mmol/liter) varied from 16% in rural highlanders to 56% in urban coastal subjects. Sex, age, village, body mass index, fat distribution, glucose intolerance, physical activity, and an index of relative modernity all contributed to variations in cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations. These results show that Papua New Guineans are by no means protected from dyslipidemia and serve warning that, unless effective preventative strategies can be developed, this and similar rapidly developing populations can expect an increasing incidence of coronary heart disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1129-1142
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • acculturation
  • blood
  • cholesterol
  • coronary disease
  • lipids

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