The next time you take your child in to the doctor’s for a physical, don’t be surprised if the doctor suggests your child have her cholesterol screened. Recently, new guidelines created by the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest doctors screen patients between the ages of 9 and 11 for high cholesterol.
This will be for all children, not just ones who seem to have risk factors for high cholesterol or who have a family history of heart disease. Why would these organizations recommend screening children so young and what can parents do?
Why the Age for Cholesterol Screening has Lowered
The rate of obesity in young children has risen dramatically over the past twenty years and along with that, lipid levels in young children have also risen. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in January 2010 that 20 percent of children and teens had unhealthy lipid levels, meaning their HDL (good) cholesterol was too low, their LDL (bad) cholesterol was high and their triglycerides (fat in the blood) were abnormally high. Obesity, unhealthy diets and little to no exercise are all factors that can cause children to have high blood pressure. By catching high cholesterol in children early, researchers hope that it can prevent the children from growing up to be adults suffering from heart disease by making a few simple lifestyle changes.
What Should Parents Do?
Parents should be concerned about modeling and providing a healthy lifestyle for their children to prevent their child from developing high cholesterol. This means eating a balanced diet, cutting back on fat and sugar and offering plenty of high protein, low fat foods as well as fruits and vegetables to your children. Exercise should also be a priority in every home. This does not mean you have to make your child run on a treadmill every day – it means spending time doing activities that your children love. Simple activities like biking, swimming, walking, playing basketball in the driveway or becoming active in a sport is all it takes to help keep cholesterol levels down. These lifestyle habits will help your child maintain a healthy weight as well as learn to live a healthy lifestyle.
What if Your Child Does Have High Cholesterol Levels?
If your child has a cholesterol screening and his cholesterol is high, your doctor will explain the options for your child’s treatment. In most instances, your doctor will suggest a weight loss program (if your child is overweight) and to eat healthy and exercise. Only about 1 percent of children actually need to take medication to lower their cholesterol, and these are in very extreme circumstances. According to the Mayo Clinic, long-term effects of children using cholesterol-lowering drugs haven’t been studied enough to believe these drugs are safe for children. Also, certain cholesterol-lowering medications, like niacin, can be a safety concern for your child. You should be cautious of giving any cholesterol-lowering medications to children age 8 and younger and should also proceed with caution with children between the ages of 8 to 17.
The good news is you can prevent your child from developing high cholesterol early in life. Follow healthy dietary guidelines and start getting your children involved in physical activity so your child will grow to be a healthy adult.