Screen Children for High Cholesterol
For many adults, the risks for heart disease and stroke began in childhood. That’s why in November 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed revised guidelines regarding screening for high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease in children.
The new guidelines, issued by the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, recommend ways to prevent the development of heart disease and high cholesterol risk factors in young children. Factors that contribute to a healthy cardiovascular system include breastfeeding and adopting a diet that’s low in saturated fat starting as early as one year of age. These new guidelines also recommend children engage in regular physical exercise, and are protected from tobacco smoke.
The most significant change in the guidelines is the recommendation that all children get screened for high cholesterol at least once between the ages of nine and 11, and again between 17 and 21 years of age. Previous 1992 guidelines recommended screening only for kids with a family history of heart disease and high cholesterol.
In addition, health care providers can now utilize a new cholesterol test that doesn’t require children to fast for hours before blood is drawn. Children who receive abnormal test results, however, should be given a traditional fasting cholesterol test as a follow-up measure. Lifestyle changes, including regular physical activity and a diet low in saturated fats, will be recommended for most kids with high cholesterol. Less than 1 percent of kids (mainly those with a genetic predisposition) would qualify for cholesterol-lowering medications. The revised guidelines recommend the DASH diet for children diagnosed with high blood pressure. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is a low-salt, low-fat, high-fiber diet plan designed for adoption by the whole family.
During your next well-child visit, ask your pediatrician about scheduling a screening. For more information on the DASH diet, visit dashdiet.org.