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Oregon Family Magazine

Kids and Cholesterol a Growing Problem

11/01/2010 ● By Anonymous
Kids and cholesterol is rapidly becoming a major concern for parents and health professionals. In 2008 the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a recommendation that all children with a family history, or health concern for high cholesterol be screened beginning at the age of two, but no later than the age of ten. If no evidence of high cholesterol is found, children should be regularly screened every two to five years. However, if there is an excessive amount of cholesterol found in children, more serious measures may need to be taken.

What is Cholesterol and Why does it Matter? Cholesterol is the fat produced by the liver. Despite all that is heard about cholesterol, it has a useful purpose. It forms hormones, tissues and cell walls as it travels through the body in the form of lipoproteins. There are two types of lipoproteins, low density lipoproteins and high density lipoproteins. These are the HDLs and LDLs that everyone hears so much about, and many are trying to regulate. It’s important to keep the HDLs high and the LDLs low. The HDLs are the good as they help protect the circulatory system by removing cholesterol from the body. While the LDLs are the problem, they can cause the build-up of cholesterol in arteries that can eventually turn into hard plaque, like the substance that forms on teeth. This causes blood vessels to narrow, become blocked and harden, which can result in strokes or heart attacks. The real problem comes into play because the body produces all the cholesterol it needs without the addition of outside factors. Thus, any cholesterol generated from excessive weight or poor diet, results in unbalanced cholesterol levels in the body.

Causes of High Cholesterol High cholesterol in kids can typically be traced to three main causes, heredity, obesity, or improper diet.

  • High cholesterol can be a genetic predisposition. Children of parents with cardiovascular issues, high blood pressure, early heart disease (heart disease in adults under the age of fifty-five), smokers, diabetes, or those facing obesity issues are at a higher risk for developing high cholesterol themselves.
  • Obesity is a primary factor for high cholesterol. Those children with weight issues are prime candidates for diabetes, which can be a precursor for high cholesterol.
  • A diet high in saturated fats, trans fats, solid fats, fatty meats, and lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables can result in high cholesterol. As the children should only be adding less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day through dietary intake.
How to Test and Treat High Cholesterol Cholesterol can be tested with a fasting lipid profile blood test. Total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter), 201-239 mg/dL is borderline, with over 240 mg/dL being considered high. If LDL cholesterol levels are above 130 mg/dL and HDL levels are below 40 mg/dL for men or 50mg/dL for women, cholesterol should be monitored. However, those children with LDL levels of 170 mg/dL are typically treated with dietary changes and physical fitness regimens. Though, there are also some vitamins and natural supplements that are recommended to help bring cholesterol levels back into an acceptable range. If LDL levels are above the moderate range (typically over 190 mg/dL), doctors may recommend that older children begin taking cholesterol lowering drugs, known as Statins. If additional health conditions exist, or if levels are only moderately high, medication may be prescribed to younger children. Doctors will typically re-screen their young patients every three to six months to monitor their progress – no matter the course prescribed.

Here are some specific recommendations for implementing a cholesterol lowering plan at home:

  • Children who are overweight must reduce their weight. Watch caloric intake and the types of foods being eaten. Opt for more fruits and vegetables, and lean proteins. Like adults, oatmeal, fish, yogurt, 1% milk, and whole grains are highly recommended.
  • Foods and snacks high in sugar, along with sodas and fruit drinks should be avoided. Make water the norm and not the exception. Try to eliminate, or at least dramatically decrease the amount of trans and saturated fats from the family diet.
  • Children should receive regular daily exercise of at least one hour. Not only will it help with weight loss and improve cardiovascular functions, but exercise will help raise HDL (good cholesterol) levels. Try to make exercise a family activity to help children enjoy the process and not feel singled out.
  • Packing a lunch for school-aged children and healthy snacks for after-school activities can go a long way towards monitoring what they are eating each day, and steering them towards healthier selections. Food that is considered healthy does not need to be “boring”; spice things up to help them keep coming back for more.
Ways to Prevent High Cholesterol The ways to prevent high cholesterol in kids, except for those with hereditary issues are the same steps used for parents to help treat them, with diet and exercise. However, the key is to be proactive. If sugary snacks and drinks, fried foods, and whole milk products (except for children under the age of 2) are not introduced, children will learn how to eat right from the beginning. Stress how delicious fresh fruits and vegetables are, and regularly introduce new items to children. Encourage them to try new foods. Even if they don’t like a particular item, they will grow accustomed to trying new things, which is often the primary hurdle towards a healthy eating lifestyle.

What to Watch For Parents should note that high cholesterol screening can often deliver results that are inconsistent in both children and adults. This has nothing to do with the tests, but with the body chemistry of the individual at the time of the test. One’s recent food consumption, exercise regiment, or the time of day when testing is administered can cause results to vary. Parents should be sure to pay careful attention to any pre-testing orders, like fasting guidelines, and perhaps keep a food diary for several days prior to screening.

High cholesterol in children could result in the same dire health problems as for adults. Children of parents with a history of high cholesterol, early cardiovascular disease, or obesity, or children with diabetes, those who are overweight, or do not know their family history should be screened for cholesterol levels. In most cases, high cholesterol in children can either be prevented or mitigated before prescription medication is introduced.

Kim Green-Spangler is a freelance writer, columnist, blogger, budding author, wife and mother. She has written hundreds of articles for various websites on topics specific to women and moms, exercise enthusiasts, small and home-based business owners and homeschoolers. She can be contacted at www.