When we think of cholesterol screening, we think in terms of ourselves – not our nine-year-old son or daughter. But new recommendations from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) are suggesting children between the ages of 9 and 11 should have their cholesterol checked, and again between ages 17 and 21, regardless of their risk.
Previously, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advised screening children with a family history of early heart disease or high cholesterol, or those children who are obese, have diabetes or high blood pressure. But those guidelines may have resulted in some children with high cholesterol going undiagnosed.
According to Pediatric Cardiologist Amy Peterson, MD, from the American Family Children’s Hospital Pediatric Preventive Cardiology Clinic, “Studies have shown that only screening for high cholesterol in children with risk factors like obesity or family history will miss many children with high cholesterol, so I think it is important for all children to be screened for cholesterol problems.”
Studies also suggest that half of children with high cholesterol will also have it as adults. And, as we know from our own annual check-ups, it’s the cholesterol that can cause clogged arteries that lead to heart attacks. While some may be concerned the screening may lead to more children being placed on statins, that may not truly be the case.
“In some situations, cholesterol-lowering medications like statins may be indicated,” explains Peterson. “But for all children, eating a heart-healthy diet and physical activity are important.”
Peterson goes on to explain the reason for rechecking cholesterol around age 18 is because children naturally have a temporary drop in cholesterol as they go through puberty. Checking again around 18 years old gives a better prediction of what their cholesterol levels will be as adults.
It’s important to remember, if you have concerns about your child’s health, speak with your child’s primary care provider. The Pediatric Preventive Cardiology Clinic can help with the evaluation and management of children who have issues related to their cholesterol and heart-related conditions.
As Dr. Peterson notes, a healthy diet and physical activity are important for all children. UW Health’s Pediatric Fitness Clinic offers healthy recipes and resources for meal planning, and suggestions for helping kids stay active.
For parents looking for ways to make simple changes that can make a big difference, consider these four steps:
- Limit sugary drinks
- Eat at least 2 serving of fruit and vegetables (it’s less than the recommended amount, but it’s a start)
- Limit screen time to two hours or less each day
- Increase activity living including walking to do errands, hiking through the woods, and other fun family activities