• Cholesterol & Children


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    Should you have your children tested for high cholesterol? Learn more about kids and cholesterol from Dr. David L. Brown.

    Obesity and high cholesterol levels in children are becoming disturbing trends, but do your children really need to have their cholesterol checked?

    If you're an adult, leaving your high cholesterol levels unchecked and untreated could have serious consequences, possibly leading to a heart attack or stroke. In order to prevent these complications, it is recommended that you have your cholesterol checked at least every five years after the age of 20.

    However, there has been a debate over whether or not children should also have their cholesterol levels checked. Studies have shown that atherosclerosis often begins very early in life in the form of fatty streaks on the inner walls of arteries. Most of these fatty streaks will not result in plaques that can slow blood flow to vital organs in the body. But some of these might lead to atherosclerosis later on in life -- placing your child at risk for heart disease later on in life. It is thought that addressing high cholesterol levels earlier in childhood could prevent many complications in adulthood.

    1. Should Your Child Have a Cholesterol Test?
    2. What Other Heart Disease Risk Factors Should Be Checked?
    3. What Does Cholesterol Testing and Monitoring Involve?
    4. What Lifestyle Changes Will Help Lower Your Child's Cholesterol?
    5. How Can You Get Your Kids to Eat and Enjoy Healthy Foods and Activity?
    6. What Are Some Healthy Meal Ideas for Your Children?
    7. How Can You Pack a Healthy Lunch When You Don't Have Much Time?

    Should Your Child Have a Cholesterol Test?

    The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends that children who are at risk for high cholesterol should have their cholesterol tested sometime after the age of two and before the age of ten. If your child has the following risk factors for heart disease, your doctor may want to test your child's cholesterol levels:

    • A family history of early heart disease (age 55 or younger for men, age 65 or younger for women)
    • A parent with high cholesterol
    • Obesity
    • Diabetes

    What Other Heart Disease Risk Factors Should Be Checked?

    Children who are older than 2 years old and at risk of having high cholesterol should also be checked for other modifiable risk factors for heart disease, including:

    • Blood pressure
    • Height and weight
    • Fasting blood glucose
    • Smoking history or exposure to smoke
    • Physical inactivity

    After you know the results of these screening tests, you can determine if lifestyle changes are needed. If so, your child's risk for heart disease can be lowered if you improve blood pressure, manage weight, prevent or manage diabetes, avoid cigarette smoke and decrease sedentary behavior.

    What Does Cholesterol Testing and Monitoring Involve?

    Cholesterol testing in your child is similar to that for adults -- blood is drawn from the arm and the child must have fasted for at least 8 to 12 hours in order to have an accurate result.

    Desirable Cholesterol Results in Children

    Total Cholesterol Less than 200 mg/dL
    LDL Cholesterol Less than 130 mg/dL
    HDL Cholesterol More than 40 mg/dL

    Less than 150 mg/dL for adolescents
    Less than 130 mg/dL for younger children

    If your child's lipid panel is normal, then his or her cholesterol should be rechecked in three to five years. If your child's cholesterol is too high, lifestyle modifications -- and sometimes medication, usually a statin -- may be needed to lower it. Your child's pediatrician will decide which treatment is appropriate and will have your child return at regular intervals to check cholesterol and other tests as needed.

    What Lifestyle Changes Will Help Lower Your Child's Cholesterol?

    Changing the way you eat and reducing sedentary behaviors are the best ways to begin to lower your child's cholesterol. Heart-healthy guidelines are appropriate for most family members over the age of 2. And keeping kids moving with plenty of physical activity is always better than sedentary behaviors like watching television and playing video games. To summarize, the American Heart Association recommends the following heart-healthy lifestyle changes for children and their families:

    • Eat vegetables and fruits and limit juice intake.
    • Use vegetable oils and soft margarines low in saturated fat and trans fatty acid instead of butter or most animal fats.
    • Eat whole-grain rather than refined-grain bread and cereals.
    • Reduce intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and foods.
    • Use nonfat or low-fat (one percent) milk.
    • Increase fish consumption, use only lean cuts of meat and reduced-fat meat products, and remove the skin from poultry.
    • Reduce salt intake.
    • Teach about a balanced meal, portion size and caloric contents of snacks
    • Encourage eating at home. Follow tips for heart-healthy dining out.
    • Perform daily moderate activity for 60 minutes.