You think of high cholesterol and a young child doesn't come
to mind - more like a grown-up fighting the urge to eat that double
cheeseburger. But now, in the wake of the ongoing childhood obesity
epidemic and rising diabetes rates among kids, the American Academy
of Pediatrics (AAP) says tracking youngsters' cholesterol
levels at an early age - and treating those that are unhealthy -
may help fend off future heart disease, the No. 1 killer of both
men and women.
According to the AAP, current research shows that the stage for
adult heart disease (also known as cardiovascular disease) is set
early on. So, the organization is changing its 10-year-old policy
on cholesterol and urging:
for children as young as 8 with unhealthy cholesterol levels,
high blood pressure, or excess weight. Before, the AAP had
advised cholesterol-combating drugs for kids 10 and up who
hadn't responded to weight-loss attempts.
cholesterol screening at routine checkups
after age 2 and no later than 10 for at-risk kids; that is, only
those who are overweight or obese, or have diabetes, high blood
pressure, a family history of cholesterol problems or heart
attacks at a young age, or an unknown family medical
low-fat milk, instead of whole
, starting at 12 months old for tots who are at risk for weight
or cholesterol issues (previously, the AAP didn't recommend
low-fat or skim milk for these kids until after 24 months of
age). Whole milk was considered the go-to beverage for kids come
their first birthday, since it provides toddlers with the fat
they need for brain growth and development. But now, many
toddlers are getting enough extra fat from plenty of other
sources, which means kids don't
- and won't be negatively affected if they don't get -
the high fat and cholesterol content of whole milk.
A lipid (or fat) made by the liver, cholesterol is one thing we
actually don't need to get from any foods at all.That's
because the liver produces enough of the waxy substance on its own
for the body to function just fine - to build cell walls and form
some hormones and tissues. All other added cholesterol comes from
the foods we eat like animal fats, hydrogenated oils, egg yolks,
and whole-milk dairy products.
But cholesterol doesn't move through the body by itself. It
has to combine with proteins to travel through the bloodstream to
where it's needed. Cholesterol and protein traveling together
are called lipoproteins. The two kinds that are the most important
, sometimes called "bad cholesterol" - think
low-density for "lousy." These are the primary
cholesterol carriers. If there's too much LDL in the
bloodstream, it can build up on the walls of the arteries that
lead to the heart and the brain, forming plaque (a thick, hard
substance that can cause blood vessels to become stiffer,
narrower, or blocked). If a blood clot forms and gets jammed in a
clogged artery, a heart attack or a stroke could follow.
, sometimes called "good cholesterol" - think
high-density for "happy, healthy, or hard-working."
These move cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the
liver, where it's processed and sent out of the body.
Here's where understanding cholesterol levels gets a little
tricky, though: High levels of LDL (the "bad"
the risk for heart disease and stroke. But high levels of HDL (the
"good" cholesterol) can
that risk and actually help
your circulatory system.
In most kids and adults with a high a level of total cholesterol
in the blood - known as hypercholesterolemia - it's high levels
of "bad" cholesterol that are usually the reason for the
high cholesterol level, and this can lead to health problems.
What This Means to You
Kids might not commiserate over their cholesterol levels on the
playground like coworkers chatting about weight at a water cooler,
but moms and dads do need to be aware of how their kids'
cholesterol today may affect them much later.
On top of a diet high in fats, heredity, and obesity - the three
major factors contribute to high cholesterol levels - high blood
pressure, smoking, and diabetes up kids' risk for heart
So, if your child is active, eats healthy foods, isn't
overweight, and doesn't have a family history of obesity or
potential heart problems, you probably don't have to worry too
But, whether your child is at risk or not, it's still wise
- Have both your and your child's cholesterol levels
- Read nutrition labels so that you can limit cholesterol and
saturated and trans fat intake (it should be add up to less than
300 milligrams a day).
- Avoid foods that are high in saturated fats (all animal fats
and some tropical oils) or trans fats (fats formed when vegetable
oils are hardened). Choose low-fat dairy products whenever you
can. Cook with liquid vegetable oil. And use tub margarine
(instead of a stick) at the table.
- Pack healthy school lunches and teach children to forego the
junk food (fatty, fried, sugary fare) in the school cafeteria and
choose healthier items instead.
- Limit or cut out commercially prepared baked goods and
- Serve snacks like fruit, raw veggies and low-fat dips, plain
popcorn or pretzels, low-fat cheese and whole-grain crackers, or
- Scale back on or totally skip soda and sugary fruit drinks -
all of that excess sugar will be transformed into fats. When kids
do drink juice, make sure it's 100% fruit juice and only
about one serving a day.
- Replace some meals of red meat with lean poultry (without the
skin), fish, beans, peas, lentils, tofu, and soy products.
And by all means, make exercise a part of your kid's - and
your family's - everyday routine. Make fitness time together
time - walking, hiking, biking, shooting some hoops, participating
in classes (karate, dance, yoga, Pilates). Whatever you do, just
keep moving and motivating your kids to do the same. Physical
activity helps boost the good cholesterol levels in the blood,
which means you'll be far less likely to become a heart disease
statistic down the road.
Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: July 2008
Source: "Lipid Screening and Cardiovascular Health in
, July 2008.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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