Do my kids need a cholesterol test?

High cholesterol and children.

Have your children had their cholesterol levels tested? This test may become part of your child’s health screening. The U.S. National Institutes of Health have developed new guidelines which have been endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and issued by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Why is this being considered for children? The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 15 percent of our youth are overweight or obese, with some states showing a rate for children above 30 percent. 2011 statistics show that 11.9 percent of Michigan youth are obese. Michigan State University Extension says that obesity contributes to high cholesterol levels which may affect the health of our hearts in childhood and into adulthood.

The guidelines recommend that testing begin on children as young as 9-years-old if the child is currently overweight and has a family history of high cholesterol. This recommendation is only part of the guidelines; prevention of high cholesterol is the key. Breast-feeding, diets low in saturated fat and regular physical activity will help keep cholesterol numbers at a healthy level. If you don’t know your family history related to cholesterol, you might want to contact family members.

What is a healthy level? A total cholesterol level of less than 170 is acceptable, a level of 170-199 is borderline, and a total of 200 or greater is considered high. Understanding your cholesterol test is more complicated than just knowing the total number, it can be explained to you in depth by your family health care provider. Having a total number in the high end does not mean your child would automatically be given a prescription for a cholesterol lowering drug. Only about one percent of children are prescribed drug therapy. What happens to the other 99 percent? A “prescription” for diet adjustments and physical activity is given. The sooner the better, it’s much easier to change food behaviors when children are young.

How can you prevent high cholesterol levels in your family?

  • Schedule an appointment with your family health care provider; he/she can discuss your family history (include grandparents and great-grandparents), cholesterol levels and together a decision can be made for your children.
  • Learn what the 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend. A diet that includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nonfat or low-fat dairy foods and a variety of proteins. Your local Michigan State University Extension office will have many resources on this topic available at very low, or no cost, including nutrition classes.
  • Read food labels to choose those foods that limit cholesterol and fats.
  • Use vegetable oil for cooking and soft margarine at the table.
  • Limit the amount of sugary drinks that are served to your family.
  • Determine if your family is getting enough physical activity each day. Children need at least 60 minutes a day; adults need 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.
  • Limit the amount of time children spend in front of a TV, game or computer screen to two hours per day.

Always check with your family health care provider before making big diet and exercise changes and don’t limit the changes to one or two members of your family; these changes will benefit the whole family. The healthy choices you make now will go a long way for a healthy future.

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