The American Heart Association issued the new guidelines in November and they generated controversy about who should be prescribed statins.
The analysis of health data, published online in the New England Journal of Medicine, found 8.3 million U.S. adults age 60 and older -- 87.4 percent of men and 54 percent of women could be prescribed the drug.
Lead author Michael J. Pencina, a professor of biostatistics at the Duke Clinical Research Institute, part of Duke University, and colleagues at McGill University in Canada and Boston University used the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys for their analysis,
The researchers focused on 3,773 participants ages 40 to 75 who had provided detailed medical information, including fasting cholesterol levels from blood tests.
The research team determined the new guidelines could result in 49 percent of U.S. adults ages 40-75 being recommended for statin therapy, an increase from 38 percent.
"The biggest surprise of the research was the age-dependent split for those affected by the new guidelines," Pencina said in a statement.
"We anticipated that the impact would be age-dependent, but not to the degree observed. The changes for both men and women in the older age groups were huge compared to those between the ages of 40 and 60."