The Rise Of Cholesterol In Children

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Recent research shows that an increasing number of children and teens have high levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol. High calorie, high fat diets and lack of exercise have been identified as contributing factors, but genetics also plays a major role in these findings. 

Presented to the American College of Cardiology at their Annual Scientific Session, this extensive research showed that one in three kids between the ages of 9 and 11 has borderline or high cholesterol, putting them at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease when they’re older:

“We know that higher levels of, and cumulative exposure to high cholesterol is associated with the development and severity of atherosclerosis,” said Thomas Seery, M.D., lead investigator of the study and pediatric cardiologist at Texas Children’s Hospital. But with universal pediatric cholesterol screening, “we can identify and work to lower cholesterol in children and potentially make a positive impact by stalling vascular changes and reducing the chances of future disease.”1

High percentage of children with elevated cholesterol

Researchers examined the pediatric medical records of 12,712 children and found that 4,709, or 30 percent, had borderline or elevated total cholesterol as defined by the National Cholesterol Education Program:

  • Boys were more likely than girls to have elevated total cholesterol and triglycerides;
  • Girls had lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL or good) cholesterol;
  • Obese children were more likely to have elevated total triglycerides, with lower HDL in comparison to non-obese children.

While heart disease is rarely found in children, Seery says that the “sheer number of kids with abnormal lipid profiles provides further evidence that this is a population that needs attention and could potentially benefit from treatment.”

        Treatment options for pediatric elevated cholesterol

        While children with a family history of high cholesterol are often prescribed with statin medications, the New Guidelines for Cholesterol Management also recommends changing other lifestyle factors and making diet and exercise your number one priority. 

            Heart healthy diet

            Every child can benefit from a heart healthy diet and regular aerobic activity. The Guidelines recommend a low-salt diet that is rich in antioxidants and potassium-rich nutrients. This includes eating a variety of healthy, unprocessed foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, Omega-3-rich oily fish, low-fat dairy, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and healthy fats and oils extra virgin olive oil. Sweets and sugary beverages, including fruit juices, together with red meat are not recommended for heart health.

            Regular aerobic exercise

            The report also recommends three to four sessions a week of moderate to vigorous physical activity, lasting 40 minutes or more. This can include any heart-pumping activity like swimming, bicycling, walking, playing ball or tag. After-school sports and family activities are also encouraged. It’s the best way to get your child to enjoy exercise and engage in some kind of social aerobic activity. 

            This new research brings to light the urgency for pediatric cholesterol screening and the need to address unhealthy lifestyle factors in children. Engaging in fun athletic activities, spending less time on electronic devices, and eating a heart healthy diet are all important ways to reduce the risk of heart disease and lower pediatric cholesterol.  

             

            References:

            1. American College of Cardiology: Thomas Seery, M.D. “Lipid Profiles Performed at the Time of Routine Physical Examinations in 9-11 Year Olds within Texas Children’s Pediatric Associates Primary Care Pediatric Clinics.” Monday, March 31.

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