You might think that having high cholesterol is a worry only for adults. But with childhood obesity doubling in the United States in the past 30 years, youngsters now are at greater risk for having high cholesterol.
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Because of this, some organizations such as The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are calling for earlier cholesterol screening for some children.
The AAP recommends cholesterol testing for children:
- Whose parents or grandparents have had heart attacks or have been diagnosed with blocked arteries or disease affecting the blood vessels, such as stroke, at age 55 or earlier in men, or 65 or earlier in women.
- Whose parents or grandparents have blood cholesterol levels of 240 mg/dL or higher.
- Whose family health background is not known (such as some adopted children), or those who have characteristics associated with heart disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, or obesity.
For children who fit in these categories, the AAP recommends their first cholesterol test should be after age 2 but no later than age 10.
The AAP and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommend that all children should be screened once between the ages of 9 and 11 years and again between the ages of 17 and 21 years.
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Variety of reasons
Obesity is not the only cause of high cholesterol in children. Other reasons can include diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, or an underactive thyroid.
A doctor can check your child’s cholesterol with a simple blood test. If your child’s initial test shows high cholesterol, your pediatrician will check your child’s blood again at least two weeks later to confirm the results. If the level is still high, the doctor also will determine if your child has an underlying condition.
A recent government report indicates there is good evidence that children with cholesterol problems become adults with high cholesterol. So it’s important to monitor children who may have an increased risk of elevated cholesterol.
Reasons to screen
There are some good reasons to consider having your child screened for high cholesterol, says cardiologist Michael Rocco MD.
“Cholesterol levels tend to drop in pre-puberty and early puberty,” Dr. Rocco says. “So earlier measurements may actually give you a better assessment of what those cholesterol levels may be like as an adult.”
He adds that a recent study by the National Center for Health Statistics showed that one in five U.S. Children have unhealthy cholesterol levels and that obese children appear to be at the highest risk.
“It may be a much bigger problem than we previously recognized, which may be another reason to push toward more universal or early screening to help identify these children,” Dr. Rocco says.
Catching high cholesterol early enough in children may enable them to make lifestyle changes that will prevent them from having to battle with high cholesterol problems as adults, Dr. Rocco says.