The general belief is that the high cholesterol problem is an ‘adult thing’, so hardly linked to children. Unfortunately, high cholesterol linked to heart disease and strokes is rooted in childhood. This makes cholesterol in children cause for concern.
Three major factors contribute to high cholesterol levels. Firstly, a diet high in fats, particularly saturated and trans fats, which are common in baked treats and commercial snack products. Secondly, having parents or a parent with high cholesterol (hereditary factor). Thirdly, obesity-related to diet and lack of exercise.
If your child is active, eats healthy foods, does not have a family history of high cholesterol, and is not overweight, you probably do not have much cause for concern.
How to Monitor And Treat High Cholesterol
Health professionals recommend cholesterol screening in only those children who are at risk for having high cholesterol. Start the cholesterol screening at two years old. Some factors make cholesterol screening necessary. First, if your child has a parent with a total cholesterol higher than 240 mg/dL. Second, if your child has a parent or grandparent with a history of heart diseases prior to age 55. Third, if your child has an unknown family history. Fourth, if your child is overweight or obese.
Your child’s doctor can use a simple blood test to say if your child’s cholesterol is too high. According to the American Heart Association, the ranges of total cholesterol for children 2 years to 19 years old are:
|Category||Total cholesterol (mg/dL)|
|Acceptable||Less than 170|
|High||200 or greater|
If the results are considered ‘acceptable,’ then your child should be screened every five years. If your child’s total cholesterol is 170 or more, then your child will probably be instructed to fast for 12 hours and then repeat the test (called fasting cholesterol). If your child’s initial cholesterol level is greater than 200, then your child’s doctor will instruct both fasting cholesterol and lipoprotein analysis. These will identify your child’s HDL and LDL levels.
While the problems caused by high cholesterol in children cause for concern, it remains unclear what high cholesterol levels show for a child. Therefore, the recommendations focus basically on healthy eating and exercise lifestyle for everyone. But most especially those who have higher cholesterol and lipoproteins.
Doctors consider medication for children over 10 years old, after changes in diet and exercise, failed to give the desired effect. It is important also to retest a child’s cholesterol levels after 3 months of dietary changes or medication.
10 Ways to Lower Your Family’s Cholesterol
- Check the cholesterol levels for you and your family.
- Read nutrition labels to know the cholesterol content in the food your family eats. Cholesterol intake should be less than 300 milligrams a day. Peak total fat intake at 30% or less of total calories and saturated fat 10% or less because these fats contain substantial amounts of cholesterol.
- Eat healthy snacks such as fruits, raw vegetables, and low-fat mayonnaise and dips, plain unsalted popcorn or pretzels, potato or plantain chips, low-fat yogurt, milk or cottage cheese.
- Replace some meals of red meat with poultry, fish, beans, peas, lentils, tofu, and soy products.
- Stay away from butter. Use liquid vegetable oil for cooking and tub margarine for table use.
- Limit intake of commercially prepared baked goods and delicacies.
- Avoid soda and sugary fruit drinks because excess sugar is transformed into fats.
- Pack healthy lunches and teach children to pick the healthiest items in their school cafeterias or tuck shop.
- Make controlling your cholesterol levels and living healthier a family affair. Children usually are not the only ones at risk, so it’s important to make this a family effort. The strides you take to improve your family’s lifestyle can have a huge effect on your health not only now, but also far into the future.
- Get plenty of exercise. Go for walks as a family, go jogging or biking, or play football, basketball, or lawn tennis. Exercise helps boost HDL levels in the blood – and that is good!
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