One of the largest studies of its kind finds that nearly one in three Americans children between the ages of 9 and 11 has either high cholesterol or borderline high cholesterol, raising their risk for developing cardiovascular diseases later in life and underscoring the need to screen kids’ cholesterol levels.
Researchers with the Texas Children’s Hospital analyzed data from 12,712 pediatric medical records and found that a full 30 percent of these children had elevated cholesterol levels. Boys were more likely to have higher levels of harmful cholesterol than girls and obese children were also more likely to have higher cholesterol.
The young age at which these children are forming high cholesterol levels is concerning because it could lead to heart conditions later on in life. For instance, atherosclerosis — a hardening of the arteries — has been found to take root at a young age among certain patients.
“We know that higher levels of, and cumulative exposure to, high cholesterol is associated with the development and severity of atherosclerosis,” said lead study author Dr. Thomas Seery. “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.”
The higher cholesterol levels are even more dangerous for children with obesity. Although a recent report indicated that childhood obesity rates dropped significantly over the last decade, some experts have suggested that the findings are overblown and pointed out that overall American obesity rates remain quite high.
The study authors say that their findings underscore the need for screening children’s cholesterol as a preventative measure, and emphasize that a healthy diet and exercise are the two best ways for children to preserve their heart health.
“Kids need to have their cholesterol panel checked at some point during this timeframe [9 to 11 years old],” said Seery. “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.”