High cholesterol in children
is becoming more common
People associate heart disease only with adults since adults have heart attacks and strokes. But research has shown that major risk factors for heart disease, including high cholesterol levels and obesity with high triglyceride levels, actually develop during childhood.
In recognition of Heart Month, we want to shed light on an important issue that isn’t on many parents’ and grandparents’ radar: children’s heart health.
In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a statement that in the United States, 20 percent of 12- to 19-year-olds have at least one abnormal lipid profile. An abnormally high lipid profile is a risk factor for heart disease as early as the mid-20s.
Lipids are fats that your liver produces to help you make cell membranes and some hormones. Cholesterol is just one type of lipid. Your liver alone produces enough for healthy body function.
We consume additional cholesterol from the animal foods we eat. These foods include eggs, meat, poultry and dairy products. Fruits, vegetables, and grains do not contain cholesterol.
How does this tie in to obesity and heart health? Many causes of obesity are also the same causes of high lipid levels in blood — a diet high in fat, lack of exercise and a positive family history of heart disease.
High cholesterol is bad news for the heart. Cholesterol can build up on the walls of the arteries that lead to the heart and brain. This build-up, or plaque, can block the artery completely, causing a heart attack or stroke.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends universal screening of all children for lipid levels between the ages of 9 and 11.
Additional screenings every two to five years will be considered when there is a family history of very high blood cholesterol levels, an early heart attack or stroke or the presence of risk factors for heart disease, including obesity. Additional screening is also recommended for children with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease.
Take a good look at your child’s diet. Is he or she getting enough fruits, vegetables and whole grains? Serve them a variety of lean meats, poultry, fish and other proteins. Watch portion sizes and snacks.
Children should also have at least one hour of physical activity every day. When your children keep moving to stay in shape, their hearts grow stronger.
Problems associated with high lipid levels can be an issue in early adulthood. Take the time now to head off these problems by initiating heart-healthy lifestyle changes. Your child’s heart will thank you years from now.
Douglas W. Teske, MD, FACC, is director of preventive cardiology, quality control and outcome for the Heart Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. He is also assistant professor of pediatrics at the Ohio State University College of Medicine.