Approximately 30 percent of children in a landmark study were found to have high cholesterol, with those most affected being boys and children of Hispanic descent.
And while it’s uncommon for a child to develop cardiovascular disease, experts caution the longer risk factors are present, the more likely people are to develop heart disease as adults.
According to the data released from evaluation of approximately 13,000 children ages 9 to 11, more than 4,700 had had borderline or elevated total cholesterol as defined by the National Cholesterol Education Program.
“The sheer number of kids with abnormal lipid profiles provides further evidence that this is a population that needs attention and could potentially benefit from treatment,” said study author Thomas Seery, M.D., in a statement.
“We know that higher levels of, and cumulative exposure to, high cholesterol is associated with the development and severity of atherosclerosis. 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.”
Seery added that the number of children with high cholesterol is significant, not only because elevated levels were associated with bad cholesterol, or LDL cholesterol, but because obese children were also among those most likely to have elevations.
With the growing issue of childhood obesity in the nation, Seery suggests medical protocols be reviewed to include routine screening between the ages of 9 and 11 and again between the ages of 17 and 21.
“Kids need to have their cholesterol panel checked at some point during this time frame [9 to 11 years old],” Seery said.
“In doing so, it presents the perfect opportunity for clinicians and parents to discuss the importance of healthy lifestyle choices on cardiovascular health. Our findings give a compelling reason to screen all kids’ blood cholesterol.”
Facts about your child’s cholesterol
Important findings in the study included:
- Boys were more likely than girls to have elevated total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, and triglycerides.
- Obese children were more likely to have elevated total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides, with lower HDL in comparison to non-obese children.
- Similar to a recent, unrelated study of adult minority groups, 9- to 11-year-old Hispanic children in this study were more likely to have elevated triglycerides and lower HDL when compared to non-Hispanics.
Does this mean more children will be put on cholesterol medication? Seery indicates that while high cholesterol in children is going undiagnosed, only a small percentage (1-2 percent) of the population would need assistance from medication.
For the rest of children with high cholesterol, diet and exercise would likely be enough to get the issue under control.
Parents may be worried about administering medications for cholesterol to children, but these are usually only indicated to ward off genetic lipoprotein disorders, such as familial hypercholesterolemia, which result in very high cholesterol levels that can be detected in childhood but are difficult to diagnose.