High Cholesterol in Children
Adults are not the only people affected by high cholesterol. Children also may have high levels of cholesterol, which can cause health problems when the child gets older. Too much cholesterol leads to the build-up of plaque on the walls of the arteries, which supply blood to the heart and other organs. Plaque can narrow the arteries and block the blood flow to the heart, causing heart problems and stroke.
What Causes High Cholesterol in Children?
Cholesterol levels in children are linked to three risk factors:
- Heredity (passed on from parent to child)
In most cases, kids with high cholesterol have a parent who also has elevated cholesterol.
How Is High Cholesterol Diagnosed in Children?
Health care professionals can check cholesterol in school-age children with a simple blood test. Conducting such a test is especially important if there is a strong family history of heart disease or if a parent of the child has high cholesterol. The blood test results will reveal whether a child's cholesterol is too high.
In July 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics made new recommendations for cholesterol screening in children. Screening is advised for kids with a family history of high cholesterol or blood fats, or a family history of premature heart disease (age 55 or younger for men, age 65 or younger for women). Screening is also recommended for kids who are overweight (at or above the 85th percentile), and who have other risk factors such as smoking, diabetes, or high blood pressure.
First screening is recommended after age 2, but no later than age 10. Children under age 2 should not be screened. If the fasting lipid profile is normal, a child should be screened again in three to five years.
For kids who are overweight or obese and who have a high blood-fat level or low level of "good" HDL cholesterol, weight management is the primary treatment. This means improved diet with nutritional counseling and increased physical exercise.
For kids aged 8 and older with extremely high cholesterol levels (or high levels with a family history of early heart disease), drug treatment should be considered.
How Is High Cholesterol in Children Treated?
The best way to treat cholesterol in children is with a diet and exercise program that involves the entire family. Here are some tips.
- Eat foods low in total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. The amount of total fat a child consumes should be 30% or less of daily total calories. This suggestion does NOT apply to children under the age of two. Saturated fat should be kept to less than 10% of daily total calories while trans fat should be avoided. For children in the high-risk group, saturated fat should be restricted to 7% of total calories and dietary cholesterol to 200 milligrams a day.
- Select a variety of foods so your child can get all the nutrients he or she needs.
- Exercise regularly. Regular aerobic exercise, such as biking, running, walking, and swimming, can help raise HDL levels (the "good" cholesterol) and lower your child's risk for cardiovascular disease.