Although levels have fallen recently, an alarming number of American children still have high cholesterol. The latest data, from 2010, showed that the condition affects 1 in 12 children (ages 6 to 19).
Medical researchers and doctors agree that high cholesterol and other precursors to cardiovascular disease sew dangerous roots in the early childhood years. However, the negative consequences of these conditions can be slowed or stopped altogether when children take up healthy behaviors.
For children, the artery-clogging plaque buildup known as high cholesterol is associated with these risk factors:
- One or both parents have high cholesterol
- High-fat, junk food diet • Obesity
- • Sedentary lifestyle
A simple blood test can check a child’s total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. The latest cholesterol screening recommendations came from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) in November 2011. The expert medical panel suggests that every child should have a cholesterol test once between the ages of 9 and 11 and again between the ages of 17 and 21. The recommendations also suggest screening children over the age of two if they have certain risk factors.
Doctors evaluate cholesterol levels in children between the ages of 2 and 19 based on the following data:
Total Cholesterol (mg/dL)
Acceptable: Less than 170 Borderline: 170-199 High: 200 or greater
LDL “Bad” Cholesterol (mg/dL)
Acceptable: Less than 110 Borderline: 110-129 High: 130 or greater
HDL “Good” Cholesterol (mg/dL)
Acceptable: Greater than 35
Acceptable: Less than 150
A child with high cholesterol is not absolutely destined for heart disease or stroke. Early interventions can set a child on the path to a healthy adulthood. Eating right and exercising are two key elements to a treatment plan.
1. For children over the age of two, fat should account for no more than 30 percent of total daily calories. Saturated fats should make up only 10 percent of dietary calories.
2. Ditch saturated fats (animal fats) and instead, use unsaturated fats (olive oil, canola oil, etc.).
3. Increase the intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Select low-fat or non-fat dairy products.
4. Be active for an hour every day.
Cholesterol levels can be rechecked every three to six months to see if the interventions are successful. For some children, diet and exercise alone will not be enough to control cholesterol levels. The NHLBI recommends prescription treatment beginning at age 10.
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