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Cholesterol Lessons for Kids Pay Off

Early Counseling About Low-Cholesterol Diet May Set Kids up for Healthier Future
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 13, 2007 -- It's never too early to teach your children about cholesterol, according to a new study.

Finnish researchers found counseling children from infancy about diets low in saturated fats, such as animal fats, reduced average blood cholesterol levels through age 14 without any negative effects on physical development.

Previous studies have shown that elevated levels of total cholesterol and LDL "bad" cholesterol in children predisposes them to early atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke later in adulthood.

"We feel that lifetime habits form early in life and healthier lifestyles should be started earlier in life," says researcher Harri Niinikoski, MD, PhD, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Turku in Finland, in a news release. "We were trying to find out whether it is safe to start a lower-saturated-fat and lower-cholesterol diet early in life."

Low-Cholesterol Message Safe for Children

The study followed 540 children who received individualized dietary counseling and 522 who did not get diet advice from the age of 7 months through age 14.

The goal of the dietary counseling was not to reduce the total number of fat calories in the children's diet, but to shift the child's fat intake from saturated fats to unsaturated fats, such as those found in fish and vegetable oils. Overall, the children were advised to have fewer than 200 milligrams of cholesterol per day. During the fist year of life, the children were breastfed or were fed formula.

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend restriction of fat in products such as milk until after 2 years of age.

"We want to emphasize that this diet is not vegetarian or even close to it," says Niinikoski. "Our aim was not to reduce intake of cholesterol and total fat in infancy. The children were advised to use meat and fish, etc., but to choose meat and milk products lower in saturated fat."

The results, published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, showed children who were counseled about low-cholesterol diets consistently had diets that were lower in total fat and saturated fat and higher in protein and carbohydrates than the children who did not receive the counseling.

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Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL. The HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL because the HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. But your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as statins. Following medication, dietary, and exercise instructions should result in improvements.

Your total cholesterol level is High, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications.

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