Cholesterol in Kids Reaches Unhealthy Highs

Cholesterol levels in almost a third of children ages 9 to 11 may put them at risk of future heart trouble

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) A cholesterol screening is often a standard part of an adult check-up. Doctors could soon recommend it for children as well, as more kids may have high cholesterol.

In adults, high cholesterol has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease and atherosclerosis (clogged arteries) — which are both risk factors for stroke — according to the National Stroke Association.

In a new study, researchers found that about one out of three kids have elevated total cholesterol that may lead to heart health problems later on in life.

"Consider a cholesterol screening for your child."

Thomas Seery, MD, a pediatric cardiologist at Texas Children's Hospital and assistant professor of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, led this investigation, reviewing medical records of 12,712 children who had been screened for cholesterol levels during a regular physical exam at clinics run by Texas Children's Pediatrics Associates.

A total of 4,709 (30 percent) had total cholesterol that was considered borderline or elevated according to National Cholesterol Education Program standards.

Dr. Seery told dailyRx News, “I want to point out that we are not saying over 30 percent of kids have high cholesterol. We are saying that we discovered over 30 percent of kids, ages 9 to 11 years — who had a total cholesterol level sent at the time of a routine physical exam — had a result that was in the range of borderline high or high.”

Dr. Seery believes that obesity, poor diet and a lack of regular exercise may be to blame. He warns that cumulative exposure to high cholesterol can lead to blocked arteries.

“If we can identify and work to lower cholesterol in children, we can potentially make a positive impact by stalling vascular changes and reducing the chances of future disease,” he said in a press release.

Boys in the study were at greater risk of having high total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol, and triglycerides, according to the authors. Girls, on the other hand, had lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or "good" cholesterol.

Compared to non-obese children, obese kids faced greater odds of having higher total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides, with lower HDL.

Authors also noted that Hispanic children in this study were more likely to have higher triglycerides and lower HDL when compared to non-Hispanics.

The researchers say their results bolster guidelines sponsored by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute and endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. These guidelines call for universal cholesterol screening of children when they are 9 to 11 years old and then again when they are 17 to 21 years old.

Dr. Seery said that some in the medical community have expressed concern that such cholesterol screenings could lead to children taking unnecessary cholesterol medications.

He told dailyRx News, “It is important to recognize that only one to two percent of kids with high cholesterol would qualify for cholesterol lowering medications. The vast majority of these patients who might need medication are those who suffer from a genetic lipoprotein disorder [and thus have quite high levels of cholesterol.]”

He stressed that regular physical activity and a healthy diet are the best approaches for controlling cholesterol.

“The most consistently effective approach to doing so is one that engages the child and the entire family,” Dr. Seery told dailyRx News.

The study, which has not been published and is being reviewed at this time, was presented at the American College of Cardiology's 63rd Annual Scientific Session at the end of March in Washington, DC.

Review Date: 
March 29, 2014
Last Updated:
March 31, 2014