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Many Kids May Have High Cholesterol

Abnormal levels seen in 1 of 3 children, possibly raising future heart disease risk, researcher says

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The guidelines call for all children between the ages of 9 and 11 to undergo a cholesterol screening, with a follow-up screening between ages 17 and 21.

To see what these screenings might reveal, the researchers reviewed the medical records of nearly 13,000 children tested for cholesterol levels between January 2010 and July 2013 as part of a routine physical exam within the Texas Children's Pediatrics Associates clinics, a large pediatric primary care organization.

They found the following:

  • Boys were more likely to have abnormal levels of total cholesterol, "bad" LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (blood fats).
  • Girls were more likely to have abnormal levels of "good" HDL cholesterol.
  • Hispanic children were more likely to have abnormal levels of triglycerides and HDL cholesterol.
  • Obese children were more likely to have across-the-board abnormal levels of every type of cholesterol, with 41 percent suffering a borderline or high total cholesterol levels.
  • About 35 percent of healthy-weight children had abnormal total cholesterol levels.

Seery hopes these findings will lead pediatricians to follow the recommended cholesterol screening guidelines for children.

These screenings present "the perfect opportunity for clinicians and parents to discuss the importance of healthy lifestyle choices on cardiovascular health," he said. "Our findings give a compelling reason to screen all kids' blood cholesterol."

He intends to conduct follow-up research to see how well pediatricians are adhering to the guidelines.

Some pediatricians have been reluctant to screen for fear that children will be put on cholesterol-lowering medications like statins, Seery said.

But another expert suggests that's not likely to happen for most kids.

Only about 1 percent of kids actually qualify for statins, and only then due to genetic factors that cause their high cholesterol, said Dr. Stephen Daniels, chair of pediatrics at Children's Hospital Colorado and a spokesman for the American Heart Association.

"The concern is that over a very long term, we don't really know what the adverse effects of statin use might be," Daniels said. "We've tended to reserve treatment with statins for children with the very highest levels of LDL cholesterol."

Instead, doctors and parents should emphasize the importance of a healthy diet and regular exercise in controlling cholesterol levels in kids, he said.

Vuguin said the study does have some drawbacks, however. Because it only involved children in Texas, it may not reflect the health of kids nationwide, she noted.

Also, the study looked back on cholesterol screenings that had already taken place, she said. It's unknown whether doctors requested these screenings on kids who had other health concerns, which could skew the numbers, and whether these kids had their screening following a proper fast to make sure their cholesterol levels didn't get a last-minute bump from the slice of pizza they ate hours before.

Because the new research was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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