[This story was written by Mark Osborn, M.D., Chief of Pediatrics for St. Peter’s Hospital, and a provider with St. Peter’s Health Center for Children.]
As February, well known as American Heart Month, draws to a close, recent news reports on heart health in the pediatric population have focused on rising cholesterol levels as being a serious concern.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently noted that only half of children and adolescents are in the ideal range for cholesterol levels. And of those 50 percent with elevated levels, half were in the clinically high range.
Historically, cholesterol screening was done only when children were considered to be high-risk, based on factors like family history. But, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) continues to stress to parents that all kids should now be screened for high cholesterol at their annual well-child visits.
Early screening is necessary because leaving the condition undiagnosed in younger age groups can lead to serious health consequences down the road. Elevated cholesterol, often a byproduct of obesity, is a prime risk factor in developing heart and vascular disease, as well as diabetes.
The recommendation is all kids be screened once for high cholesterol between the ages of 9 and 11, and then again between 17 and 21 years. Children under age 2 should not be screened.
For children and adolescents, ideal measures include total cholesterol at less than 170 mg/dL, LDL or “bad” cholesterol at less than 110 mg/dL and HDL or “good” cholesterol at greater than 45 mg/dL. These levels are associated with better long-term health.
Improved diet and exercise is the best prescription for fighting childhood obesity. Helping kids make good food choices is critical, with examples including:
- Breakfast: Fruit, non-sugar cereal, oatmeal, and low-fat yogurt are all good choices. Use skim or 1% milk rather than whole or 2% milk.
- Lunch and Dinner: Bake or grill foods instead of frying them. Integrate whole grains into their diets through whole-grain breads, crackers, and pasta. Prepare beans, rice, fish, skinless poultry and other lean proteins. Serve fresh fruit (with the skin) for dessert.
- Snacks: Fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain breads make great snacks. Children should avoid soda, juice and fruit drinks.
Health care professionals can easily check cholesterol levels in children with a simple blood test. For those children with particularly high numbers, family counseling with a nutritionist may be recommended. Medication may be recommended in severe cases to aid in bringing numbers to a safer level.
St. Peter’s Health Center for Children, 1092 Madison Avenue in Albany, offers a complete range of services for children from newborns to age 18. Services include well-child routine care, sick child exams, school and camp physicals, sports physicals, immunizations, health maintenance and education, and access to other hospital services and referrals to specialists. Call 518-525-2445 for more information or an appointment.