More than 102 million Americans deal with high cholesterol every year. The way that we eat as a country has changed, and along with larger and more fattening portions comes a host of potential health problems. When I suggest having a child's cholesterol level checked, parents are sometimes surprised to learn it’s recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and for good reason.
Not Solely a ‘Grown Ups’ Problem
High cholesterol is usually thought of as an adult problem when, in fact, many children are diagnosed with high cholesterol every year. Because of this, the AAP expanded its recommendations regarding children's cholesterol screenings from 17 to 21 years old to also include screenings for children 9 to 11 years old. While this may seem early, checking for high cholesterol at an early age is actually based on good science. Cholesterol often drops in pre-puberty and early puberty, so checking cholesterol levels during this time would not necessarily give your pediatrician an accurate measure of your child's health. Checking levels earlier could help alleviate this problem.
The Test Is Easy
Checking your child's cholesterol level doesn’t involve rigorous testing. It’s a simple blood test, the same as it is for adults. Fasting beforehand isn’t required.
Risk Factors and Underlying Causes
Obesity isn’t the only determining factor when considering why a child might have high cholesterol. In fact, a child could be at a healthy weight and heavily involved in sports and still have high cholesterol. This is partly why the AAP recommends testing at younger ages. High cholesterol could mean your child has an underlying issue, such as diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease or an underactive thyroid. High cholesterol could also signify other health risks later in life, such as heart disease. The bottom line is the sooner you find out, the sooner you can address these issues.
Other Kids Who Should Be Screened
The AAP also recommends children with certain risk factors be checked, in some cases as early as 2 years old. This includes:
- Children whose parents or grandparents have had heart attacks, blocked arteries, or blood vessel-affecting diseases, such as strokes, younger than 65 in women and younger than 55 in men
- Children whose parents are grandparents have been diagnosed with high cholesterol
- Children who are clinically obese or have health characteristics in their family background associated with heart disease
Checking for high cholesterol early can help parents mitigate some of the issues that may arise later in life and immediately deal with underlying issues that could be causing the high cholesterol to begin with.