Why worry about kids’ cholesterol?
Aren’t heart and stroke diseases of older people? Wrong!
You don’t get heart disease all of a sudden, even though the heart attack or stroke may be a surprise. Cardiovascular disease begins slowly, one cholesterol molecule at a time. Therefore, it is extremely important to be concerned about controlling kids’ cholesterol, to help prevent cardiovascular disease when they are older.
Consider These Facts About Your Kids’ Cholesterol:
• The importance of controlling your kids’ cholesterol is supported by evidence from the Korean War era; when autopsies of soldiers in their late teens and early twenties revealed build-up of cholesterol-related plaque and narrowing of the arteries, even though on the surface these were healthy men.
• Fatty streaks have been found in autopsies of children as young as 3 years old, and autopsy studies have shown fatty accumulations in the coronary arteries in more than half of children ages 10 to 14. Also, studies have shown that in countries with high rates of coronary artery disease, both children and adults have higher cholesterol levels.
• Studies have also shown that children and adolescents with elevated cholesterol levels are more likely to have high levels as adults. Autopsy studies in children have also shown a relationship between LDL cholesterol levels (obtained before death) and the presence of fatty streaks in coronary arteries. (High cholesterol and fat deposits in the arteries upon autopsy also correlate well in adults.)
• Children with high cholesterol levels are three times more likely to have high cholesterol levels as adults than kids with normal cholesterol levels. Even though there have been no long-term studies demonstrating the value of lowering kids’ cholesterol levels to prevent coronary artery disease in adulthood, we can rely on common sense: children growing up with a healthy diet are more likely to grow up to be adults with healthy hearts. As a general guide, children shouldn’t eat more than 100 milligrams of cholesterol per 1,000 calories in their diet.
• If there is a family history of hypercholesterolemia (a metabolic quirk causing very high cholesterol and fatty deposits in the skin), children should have their cholesterol checked and monitored beginning at 2 years old and rechecked annually.
• Children whose parents or grandparents (under 55 years old) have a history of coronary artery or cerebrovascular disease should have their cholesterol checked before entering school and every few years thereafter.
• Children with parents whose cholesterol level are 240 milligrams or more should be tested anytime after 2 years old and tested again five years later. For school-age children, an acceptable blood cholesterol level would be below 170 milligrams. In a child with a serum cholesterol above this level or with a positive family history for any of the above risk factors, a complete blood lipoprotein panel (i.e., HDL, LDL, total cholesterol, and triglycerides) should be done on blood samples drawn in the morning after a 12-hour fast. To avoid the discomfort of fasting, do a routine nonfasting blood-cholesterol-level test first. If the result is borderline or high, get the complete profile, which needs to be done after fasting. The AAP does not believe that routine cholesterol tests are necessary for every child. Every child over 2 years old should be on a low-cholesterol diet anyway, and foods high in cholesterol (for example, a Big Mac contains 103 milligrams, a Whopper contains 90 milligrams, and a Double Whopper with cheese contains 195 milligrams) should be discouraged for many nutritional reasons. The foods that children should eat more of (fruits, vegetables, grains, lowfat dairy, and fish) tend to be already low in cholesterol.Though it’s not healthy to have a cholesterol phobia, the earlier you help your children learn to be cholesterol conscious, the better for their hearts. Eating habits developed in childhood are likely to carry over into adulthood. Children who grow up on a high-fat, high cholesterol diet are likely to continue this fat preference, whereas children who grow up with a healthy diet are more likely to choose healthy foods as adults.
When fast-food establishments boast that their french fries are “cooked in cholesterol-free, 100-percent vegetable oil,” they are often referring to hydrogenated vegetable oil. This stuff stands up better to both life on a shelf and the heat of the fryer, but the effect on your blood cholesterol levels is similar to that of lard.
Should children have routine cholesterol testing?
Currently, the Committee on Nutrition of the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends: No infants, regardless of family history, should be put on a low-cholesterol diet under 1 year old. (We believe under 2 years old would be wiser.)
* The cholesterol that is attached to the LDL’s is actually the same as the cholesterol that is joined to the HDL’s. There are not two different kinds of cholesterol, “good” and “bad.” These terms are used to refer to the possibly helpful or harmful effects of the lipoprotein-cholesterol combination.
Read more about Dr. Sears’ tips to control your cholesterol
Dr. Sears, or Dr. Bill as his “little patients” call him, has been advising busy parents on how to raise healthier families for over 40 years. He received his medical training at Harvard Medical School’s Children’s Hospital in Boston and The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, the world’s largest children’s hospital, where he was associate ward chief of the newborn intensive care unit before serving as the chief of pediatrics at Toronto Western Hospital, a teaching hospital of the University of Toronto. He has served as a professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto, University of South Carolina, University of Southern California School of Medicine, and University of California: Irvine. As a father of 8 children, he coached Little League sports for 20 years, and together with his wife Martha has written more than 40 best-selling books and countless articles on nutrition, parenting, and healthy aging. He serves as a health consultant for magazines, TV, radio and other media, and his AskDrSears.com website is one of the most popular health and parenting sites. Dr. Sears has appeared on over 100 television programs, including 20/20, Good Morning America, Oprah, Today, The View, and Dr. Phil, and was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine in May 2012. He is noted for his science-made-simple-and-fun approach to family health.