A quarter of US children and teens have dangerously high cholesterol levels, a new study finds.
Researchers from Ann & Robert H Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, say that these children are at an increased risk of stroke and heart attacks in adulthood.
While they noted that cholesterol levels among America’s youth has improved over the last two decades, just half of those between ages six and 19 were found to have cholesterol levels in the ideal range.
The team says the findings are evidence that children need to be closely monitored by their doctors for high cholesterol levels so that possible change in diets or drug treatment may be implemented quickly.
A new study from Ann & Robert H Lurie Children’s Hospital has found that only half of US children between ages six and 19 have cholesterol levels in the ideal range, or less than 170 mg/dL (file image)
There are two types of cholesterol. The first is LDL, known as ‘bad’ cholesterol because it can buildup in the arteries and lead to several health problems.
The second is HDL, known as ‘good’ cholesterol because it carries cholesterol from other parts of the body back to the liver, which then removes the cholesterol from the body.
Levels of cholesterol are generally measured as milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL).
For children, the HDL number should be above 45 mg/dL and, for LDL, optimal is generally less than 110 mg/dL.
High cholesterol often has no symptoms, so the majority of people don’t even know that they have high levels.
Levels of high cholesterol can increase a child’s risk of stroke and heart disease, which is the number one killer in every country including the US.
For the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the team looked at data for more than 26,000 children.
They found that only about half the children had total cholesterol levels that were less than 170 mg/dL.
Meanwhile, about 25 percent of the group had total cholesterol levels greater than 200 mg/dL, which is considering dangerously high.
About 95 million Americans, about 40 percent of the populations, has cholesterol levels above 200 mg/dL, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the majority of cases, children with elevated cholesterol have a parent with similarly high levels.
‘High cholesterol in childhood is one of the key risk factors for developing heart disease later in life,’ said lead author Dr Amanda Marma Perak, a cardiologist at Lurie Children’s Hospital.
‘Although we see favorable trends in all measures of cholesterol in children and adolescents over the years, we still need to work harder to ensure that many more kids have healthy cholesterol levels.
‘We know that high cholesterol is the critical initiator of…plaques in the arteries, and even in childhood it is associated with these changes in the blood vessels that can lead to heart attack in adulthood.’
Researchers did note that the proportion of young people with high cholesterol levels has fallen by at least 28 percent in the last two decades.
However, they admitted that this was surprising considering that one of the risk factors for high cholesterol levels is obesity, which is continuing to rise among US children.
Childhood obesity rates have more than tripled over the last four decades from 5.5 percent to 18.5 percent.
According to guidelines published by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in January, children and teens should have their cholesterol checked between ages nine and 11 and again between ages 17 and 21.
‘If a child is found to have borderline-high or high levels of cholesterol, we can usually improve those levels through lifestyle changes, such as healthier diet and increased physical activity,’ says Dr Marma Perak.
‘Children are rarely placed on cholesterol-lowering medications like statins.’
The team plans to further research the trends it founds, but says there are outside factors that could be why cholesterol is improving, such as fewer trans fats in foods.
‘Although more efforts are needed, the fact that cholesterol levels are moving in the right direction warrants some optimism about the future cardiovascular health of our population since cholesterol is such an important driver of cardiovascular disease,’ said Dr Marma Perak.