Cholesterol Lessons for Kids Pay Off
Early Counseling About Low-Cholesterol Diet May Set Kids up for Healthier Future
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
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
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
By age 14, children who were taught about a low-cholesterol diet had
slightly lower blood cholesterol levels than the other group.
"Overall, the difference between the mean serum cholesterol values of
the intervention and control children is quite small -- about 5 percent in boys
and 2-4 percent in girls depending on age -- [statistically] significant for
boys but not for girls," says Niinikoski in the news release. "In the
long run, even a minor decrease in serum cholesterol concentrations in a large
population can have a major influence on coronary heart disease."
In addition, in the study there were no significant differences in physical
development, including height, weight, body mass index (BMI), puberty changes,
and age of first menstrual period for girls, among those who received
counseling about a low-cholesterol diet.