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Cholesterol Levels Have Gone Down in Kids, Teens

Rising Obesity Levels, Dropping Cholesterol Levels Have Researchers Looking for Answers
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 7, 2012 -- Cholesterol levels have improved among children and teens in the United States over the past two decades, despite rising obesity rates during the same period, the CDC says.

Researchers analyzed data on more than 16,000 children and teens enrolled in a national health survey for the study, which appears in the Aug. 8 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Total Cholesterol Down, HDL Up

Among kids and teens between the ages of 6 and 19, significant declines were identified in average total cholesterol levels, while beneficial increases were seen in high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or good cholesterol.

The study did not explore the reasons for the improvement, but researchers say two positive trends may have played a role.

"We know that factors that contribute to blood cholesterol in children include diet, physical activity, consumption of saturated fats, and exposure to secondhand smoke," says Brian K. Kit, MD, of the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

He tells WebMD that the emphasis on replacing trans fats and other saturated fats with healthier fats in commercially available foods, as well as public health initiatives to reduce secondhand smoke exposure, may have contributed to the decline.

Rise in Obesity Cause for Concern

Pediatric cardiologist Sarah de Ferranti, MD, of Harvard Medical School and Boston Children's Hospital, says while there is reason for optimism in the new findings, the rise in childhood obesity during the same period remains a major cause for concern.

According to the CDC, the obesity rate among children and teens in the U.S. has tripled since 1980.

"There is certainly a concern that the obesity epidemic will overwhelm any benefits we might see from this positive trend," she tells WebMD. "As overweight kids become overweight adults, this is certain to have a negative impact on heart disease and diabetes."

American Heart Association president Donna Arnett, MD, echoes the sentiment. She is a professor and chair of epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

"There is reason for optimism in the finding that cholesterol levels seem to be on the decline in our youth, despite the unfavorable trend in obesity," she says. "Looking to the future, we need to do all that we can to see if this trend continues."

More Study Needed, Expert Says

The CDC researchers assessed cholesterol and blood fat levels during three time periods among kids and teens between the ages of 6 and 19.

Between the time of the first survey, conducted between 1988 and 1994, and the third, conducted between 2007 and 2010, the prevalence of youths with elevated total cholesterol levels declined from around 11% to 8%. The prevalence of teens with elevated blood fats and LDL (bad cholesterol) also decreased.

De Ferranti says future research should focus on identifying the cause or causes for the decline to guide health policymakers in the future.

"These studies could help us understand which types of interventions have the biggest impact," she says.

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Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is borderline high. If your LDL goes higher, your total cholesterol level could become Borderline High. Consider reducing the amount of foods you eat with saturated fats and increasing physical activity. If you get more exercise, your level of "good" HDL cholesterol may increase, which could also help to keep your levels of LDL and total cholesterol in check.

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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