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Family Nutrition & Health

Cholesterol-Heavy Kids

Even though two out of three adults have high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, most parents don't think about what a similar health path means for their kids. High levels of cholesterol are a major factor contributing to heart disease and stroke; medical research shows that cardiovascular disease has its roots in childhood.

With the dramatic increase in childhood obesity, more and more kids are at risk of having high cholesterol and the complications it brings.

What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced by the liver. It's one of the lipids, or fats, that the body makes. It does have an honorable purpose: It is used to form cell membranes and some hormones.

Even if you never ate another fatty meal or ice cream cone, your body would still have enough cholesterol to run smoothly. Our livers make enough for our body to function in a healthy way – about 1,000 milligrams of cholesterol a day. We get the rest from the foods we eat.

Why it matters
Problems associated with high cholesterol generally don't show up for years, so making the connection between kids' health and cholesterol can be difficult. But it's important to know your child's cholesterol levels, especially if there's a family history of high cholesterol or premature heart disease.

By identifying high cholesterol levels in your children now, you and your doctor – and your child – will be able to make changes that will lower their risk of developing heart disease later.

Know the numbers
Current guidelines recommend that all kids be screened for high blood lipids at least once when they're between 9 and 11 years old, and again between 17 and 21. In addition, kids 2-8 years old and 12-16 years old who are at risk for high cholesterol should be tested.

More frequent screening may be recommended for kids who:
Have a parent or close relative with a total cholesterol higher than 240 mg/dL.
  • Have a family history of cardiovascular disease prior to age 55 in men and age 65 in women.
  • Have certain medical conditions (such as kidney disease, Kawasaki disease, or juvenile idiopathic arthritis).
  • Are overweight or obese.
  • Have additional risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or who smoke cigarettes
Your doctor can order a simple blood test to check if your child’s cholesterol is too high. The test is usually taken on a fast (nothing to eat or drink, except water, for 12 hours prior to the test). Healthy kids without risk factors can usually do a non-fasting blood test.

When to be concerned
If your child has an LDL cholesterol level of 130 mg/dL or greater, ask your doctor about individual nutritional counseling to help them reduce dietary fat and cholesterol and increase their physical activity. Set up another test in 3 to 6 months.

If diet and exercise don’t help, your doctor may consider adding medication for kids 10 and older with LDL cholesterol levels of 190 mg/dL or higher. If your child has additional risk factors, your doctor may suggest treatment at even lower levels.

Where cholesterol lurks
Vegetables, fruits, and grains DO NOT have any cholesterol – which is why they’re the first things you should reach for. These animal-based foods DO, and you should limit them for your entire family to avoid high cholesterol problems:
  • Egg yolks
  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Seafood
  • Dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream)

Start your children off in life with a healthy respect for fats and information about the negative health results of high LDL cholesterol. Their health is in your control now – but it will be in their control for the rest of their life.

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