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Kids’ Lifestyle Changes Bring Later Heart Health

Study Shows Changing Unhealthy Habits of Children Can Help Prevent Heart Disease in Adults
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan 4, 2011 -- Encouraging children to make healthy lifestyle changes before they reach adulthood, including regular exercise and not smoking, can help lower the children’s blood cholesterol levels and potentially reverse their risk of developing heart disease as they age.

Growing numbers of U.S. children have high levels of cholesterol and other blood fats called triglycerides, which are considered major risk factors for heart disease, but these numbers are not set in stone, according to a new study in the January issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

There may be a window of opportunity to change unhealthy habits in children, reverse risk factors such as high cholesterol in children, and stave off heart disease, conclude study researchers who were led by Costan C. Magnussen, PhD, of the Menzies Research Institute in Tasmania, Hobart, Australia.

Tracking Cholesterol Levels

In the study, 539 young adults had their cholesterol and triglyderides levels measured when they were 9, 12, or 15 in 1985. These measurements served as the baseline. Participants had their cholesterol and triglyceride levels tested again after an average of 20 years of follow-up. Researchers also measured their height, weight, waist circumference, saturated fat intake, skin-fold thickness, smoking status, cardiorespiratory fitness, and socioeconomic factors at both time points.

High-risk cholesterol levels were defined as total cholesterol levels of 240 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL) or higher, an LDL “bad” cholesterol level of 160 mg/dL or higher, an HDL “good” cholesterol level of less than 40 mg/dL, and a triglyceride level of 200 mg/dL or higher.

Many children who were “high risk” at baseline were not high risk at follow-up when they reached adulthood, the study showed.

Those children who were overweight or obese and who began or continued smoking were among the most likely to maintain their high blood cholesterol and elevated risk status throughout the study.

Among those children who were initially considered low risk, those who gained weight, become less physically fit between the surveys, and did not show improvement in their socioeconomic status were more likely to become high risk as adults, when compared with their counterparts who remained low risk.

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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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