Summary. When used for the secondary prevention of coronary heart disease, treatment with an inhibitor of hydroxymethylglutaryl-coenzyme-A reductase results in worthwhile benefit that clearly exceeds any risk in patients whose risk of coronary death is 1·5% or more per year. This evidence can be extrapolated logically to primary prevention of coronary disease provided that treatment is targeted at those with similar or higher risk. We present a table that refines previously proposed methods of risk prediction. The table identifies subjects who have the specified degree of coronary risk; shows the serum cholesterol concentration that confers that degree of risk in the individual; and identifies subjects who will not have this degree of risk, irrespective of their cholesterol concentration. It is simple enough for use in ordinary practice. The table highlights the predominant effect of age on coronary risk; a person who is free of vascular disease and younger than 52 years is unlikely to have the specified degree of risk. Even in older people (60-70 years) several risk factors are generally required to attain this degree of risk. Some people are candidates for lipid-lowering drug treatment with serum cholesterol as low as 5·5 mmol/L, whereas others with cholesterol as high as 9·0 mmol/L are not. Although cholesterol lowering is a powerful method for preventing coronary events in people at high risk, cholesterol measurement by itself is not a good way to identify those with high coronary risk. The method can be adapted readily to target a different level of coronary risk as new evidence on the benefit and risk of treatment becomes available. © 1995.