Are kids at risk?
Controlling cholesterol begins in childhood.
Evidence shows atherosclerosis (fatty deposits of plaque in artery walls) begins in childhood and progresses slowly into adulthood. Then the condition often leads to coronary heart disease (CHD), the single largest cause of death in the United States. Other evidence says:
- Elevated cholesterol levels early in life may play a role in the development of atherosclerosis in adults.
- Eating patterns and genetics affect blood cholesterol levels and CHD risk.
- Lowering levels in children and adolescents may be beneficial.
Many studies show high blood cholesterol levels play a role in developing coronary heart disease (CHD) in adults. Research has also shown fatty buildup in arteries begins in childhood and is more likely with higher blood cholesterol levels.
Who should be tested?
Most children don’t need to have their blood cholesterol checked. Those who should be tested at age 2 or older include children with:
- At least one parent with high cholesterol (240 mg/dL or greater); or
- A family history of early heart disease (a male parent or grandparent with CHD before age 55 or a female parent or grandparent with CHD before age 65)
In some cases, a doctor may recommend screening a child’s cholesterol level even without these conditions, especially if the child has other risk factors.
Cholesterol levels for children are not evaluated by the same criteria as those for adults. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, the following cholesterol levels apply for children between 2 to 19 years old.
|Desirable||Borderline||Associated with Higher Risk|
|Total Cholesterol||Less than 170||170-199||200 or more|
|LDL Cholesterol||Less than 110||110-129||130 or more|
If you think your child may be at higher risk, talk to your child’s doctor about your concerns and whether an evaluation is needed. Your child’s doctor is your best source for recommendations on how to guide your child toward a heart-healthy adult life.
Don’t restrict cholesterol in babies and toddlers
Fats and cholesterol are important for normal growth and development in young children. Very young children (from infants old enough to eat solids up to about age 4) who are physically normal and healthy should not have their diet influenced by adult concerns about foods containing fats and cholesterol. Depriving children of adequate amounts of these substances can hurt them.
Once they are old enough to eat solids, young children should be given healthy foods such as whole milk that provide fats as nutrients. But children shouldn’t be eating french fries every day.
See your pediatrician and ask questions if you have any concerns about the appropriate diet for your child.
Older children and cholesterol
Older children from about 4 or 5 should be transitioned to heart-healthy foods such as nonfat or low-fat milk. A healthy diet plus a healthy level of physical activity is most likely to give them a good start in life and minimize the risk of CHD.