Abnormally high cholesterol levels are putting American children at higher risk for a heart attack or stroke later in life. One in five kids has high cholesterol according to a review of 2011-2014 federal health data compiled by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Overall, slightly more than 13 percent of kids had unhealthily low levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol -- the kind that actually might help clear out arteries. The CDC says just over 8 percent had too-high levels of other forms of cholesterol that are bad for arteries, and more than 7 percent had unhealthily high levels of "total" cholesterol.
Obesity was seen as a major contributing factor, the CDC said. For example, more than 43 percent of children who were obese had some form of abnormal cholesterol reading, compared to less than 14 percent of normal-weight children.
Not surprisingly, rates of abnormal cholesterol readings rose as kids aged. For example, while slightly more than 6 percent of children aged 6 to 8 had high levels of bad cholesterol, that number nearly doubled -- to 12 percent -- by the time kids were 16 to 19 years of age, the CDC said.
Knowing how obesity can impact the heart, cardiologists were not shocked by the findings.
"When one looks at the data it is clear that the obesity epidemic is responsible for a substantial portion of these abnormal cholesterol values," said Dr. Michael Pettei, who co-directs preventive cardiology at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. "Approximately one-third of U.S. children and adolescents are either overweight or obese.
"Clearly, the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) recommendations to screen all children for cholesterol status, and to take measures to prevent and manage obesity, are more appropriate than ever," he said.
Dr. Kevin Marzo, chief of cardiology at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y., agreed.
"Abnormal cholesterol is a key modifiable risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke, in adulthood," he said. "This study confirms that preventive strategies must start in childhood, including healthy eating habits, regular exercise, and maintaining ideal body weight."
The AAP recommends that all children begin having their cholesterol checked between the ages of 9 and 11.
An acceptable total cholesterol level for a child is below 170 with LDL below 110. A borderline reading in total cholesterol is 170-199 with LDL between 110-129. And a high classification in total cholesterol is above 200 with LDL above 130.
There may be other reasons a child can have high cholesterol such as diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease or an underactive thyroid. If an initial test shows high cholesterol, your pediatrician will check your child’s blood again at least 2 weeks later to confirm the results. If it is still high, the doctor will also determine if your child has an underlying condition.
Some children can also have high cholesterol that is passed down through families. It’s called familial hypercholesterolemia and is an inherited condition that causes high levels of LDL cholesterol levels beginning at birth, and heart attacks at an early age. Any child with a family history of high cholesterol should begin having his or her levels in infancy.
The findings were published Dec. 10 as a Data Brief from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.
Sources: E.J. Mundell, http://consumer.healthday.com/vitamins-and-nutrition-information-27/high-cholesterol-health-news-359/one-in-five-u-s-kids-over-age-5-have-unhealthy-cholesterol-cdc-706032.html