Distributions of blood total cholesterol, triglyceride, low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and high-density-lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels are presented for a geographically defined cohort of rural elderly Iowans, 71 to 102 years old. Cross-sectionally, women had higher levels of total and LDL cholesterol than men did, levels that declined with increasing age. Mean HDL cholesterol levels were also higher in women than in men, but remained relatively constant across the age range. Age- and sex-specific total, LDL, and HDL cholesterol levels were lower among participants residing in long-term-care facilities. HDL but not total cholesterol levels were lower in cigarette smokers and those with chronic illnesses, physical dependence, and poorer performance on physical function tests, and higher among those consuming alcohol. If subjected to the screening guidelines of the National Cholesterol Education Program, a majority of this population, having total cholesterol levels of 5.2 mmol/L (200 mg/dL) or higher, would require further evaluation for possible hyperlipidemia.