Pediatricians have begun screening children ages 9 to 11 for high cholesterol levels.  Although heart disease is rare in children, having elevated cholesterol levels may foretell if they will develop heart disease as an adult.  Intervening now can lead them into healthier adulthood, according to Dr. Paola Portela, pediatrician, Woodridge Clinic.

“Childhood obesity is on the rise.  It’s usually a familial issue.  When we discover that a child has high cholesterol, we work with the whole family to get healthier.  Increased blood levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides can clog arteries, which lead to blockages.  It takes effort from everyone at home to make positive dietary changes, such as eating less fried foods, red meat, and saturated fats. 

“We urge children to exercise more.  The beauty of children is that they can rebound quickly if they make changes,” Portela says.

The American Academy of Pediatrics endorses the new screening guidelines, which aim to optimize cardiovascular health beginning with promoting breastfeeding, emphasizing a diet low in saturated fat starting at age one year, encouraging routine physical exercise, and protecting the young from secondhand tobacco smoke.  Less than one percent of children with high cholesterol would qualify for cholesterol-lowering medicine.  The treatment would focus on lifestyle modification and a heart-healthy diet.

“We encourage patients to follow the American Heart Association diet, which recommends low-fat, high fiber food choices.  We follow-up with patients to help them keep the momentum going of making healthy choices,” Portela adds.

The guidelines recommend screening children for high cholesterol once between the ages of 9 and 11, and again between the ages of 17 and 21.  Previously, only children with a family history of heart disease were screened.  Children may not need to fast for the blood test, unless the pediatrician wants to test for other problems, such as high glucose levels.  If the results are abnormal, a follow-up blood test requires fasting.