To identify determinants of recent secular trends in lipids and characterize their influence on age-related increases in LDL-cholesterol, we examined a cohort of black and white men and women aged 18-30 in 1985-1986. Secular trends were determined by comparing participants aged 25-30 at baseline with those aged 25-30 at year 7 (2788 and 1395 participants, respectively). LDL-cholesterol was lower among those 25-30 at year 7 (5.9 to 10.2 mg/dL, depending on race-sex group; P < 0.001); weight was higher (8.3 to 12.5 lb; P < 0.001); Keys score was lower (-4.2 to -7.3 units; P < 0.001); and use of oral contraceptives was greater (white women only, P < 0.01). Among 4086 participants followed for 7 years, LDL-cholesterol changed little or decreased, despite substantial weight increases in all groups (11.6 to 19.0 lb; P < 0.001). Keys scores decreased by 6.1 to 8.0 units, and use of oral contraceptives decreased (P < 0.001). Declining secular trends in LDL-cholesterol occurred despite upward trends in weight; the decline was associated with lower dietary fat and cholesterol and offset expected age-related increases in LDL-cholesterol.