High Cholesterol and Kids

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High Cholesterol and Kids

September is National Cholesterol Education Month, and everyone knows that childhood obesity is on the rise. But did you know that high cholesterol in kids is also taking a sharp upturn? High blood pressure continues to climb in children as well, and the statistics alarm health-care professionals.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) in November 1985. According to NHLBI, the goal of the NCEP is to contribute to reducing illness and death from coronary heart disease (CHD) in the United States by reducing the percentage of Americans with high blood cholesterol. Through educational efforts directed at health professionals and the public, the NCEP aims to raise awareness and understanding about high blood cholesterol as a risk factor for CHD and the benefits of lowering cholesterol levels as a means of preventing CHD.

The NCEP has been successful, in that since 1978, average total cholesterol levels among U.S. adults have fallen from 213 mg/dL to 203 mg/dL, and the prevalence of cholesterol of 240 mg/dL or higher has declined from 26 percent to 19 percent. Moreover, CHD mortality has continued to decline. Taken all together, the progress indicators demonstrate that cholesterol education has had a significant impact.

The latest Cholesterol Awareness Survey (CAS) of physicians and the public shows that from 1983 to 1995, the percentage of the public who had ever had their blood cholesterol checked rose from 35 to 75 percent.

The news is not so good for children, however. According to WebMD, studies indicate that 18 percent of children between the ages of one and 16 have either high cholesterol or too little of the “good” (HDL) cholesterol.

Princeton Online reports that autopsies on child victims of accidental death have demonstrated that fat is deposited in the large artery of the upper body (the aorta) by age three and in the arteries of the heart (coronary arteries) by age 12. “Although enough fat to cause a heart attack does not accumulate until adulthood,” says Mark B. Levin, M.D., of the Pediatric Group, P.A., Princeton, “once it has accumulated, the disease is manifest.”

According to MedicineNet.com, children should learn healthy living habits to reduce the risk of developing heart disease later in life. They should eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet and exercise regularly. Studies show that many school-aged children eat diets that are moderate to high in fat content. Children should be encouraged to eat foods that are low in total fat and saturated fat.

Parents may despair at these generic, easier-said-than-done suggestions. However, the easiest way to change your child’s health habits is to model them yourself.

The NCEP’s guidelines concerning children and teens include:

l Eat a variety of food that is nutritionally adequate. l Eat enough calories to support growth and development, and to reach or maintain desirable body weight. l Keep total dietary fat intake to 30 percent of calories or less. l Keep saturated fat to less than 10 percent of total calories. l Keep dietary cholesterol to less than 300 mg per day.

The NCEP guidelines do not recommend routine screening for high blood cholesterol levels in children. The NCEP recommends cholesterol screening for children and teens whose parents or grandparents developed heart disease or had high blood cholesterol levels at age 55 or younger. Those guidelines say that children should be tested for high cholesterol if their parents have total cholesterol above 240, have a family history of heart attack in a relative younger than age 55, or if the parents' cholesterol is unknown. Recommended levels for blood cholesterol levels in children are provided below.

Total and LDL cholesterol in children and teens:

Acceptable: total cholesterol: