Most parents probably don’t think that high blood cholesterol levels could be a problem for their children. But elevated cholesterol levels in kids can contribute to heart disease and stroke in adulthood.
Parents should talk to their children’s pediatrician about how to help keep them heart healthy for life, says pediatric cardiologist Francine Erenberg, MD.
“Children don’t necessarily have to be overweight to have high cholesterol,” Dr. Erenberg says. “A genetic predisposition or outside factors could be the root of the cause.”
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is made by your body to help form the walls of cells and organs. Cholesterol also is an important part of the brain and nervous system. Your liver converts the fat that you eat into cholesterol.
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL), known as bad cholesterol, are the primary cholesterol carriers. Too much LDL in the bloodstream can build up on the walls of the arteries that lead to the heart and brain. This buildup can cause blood vessels to narrow or become blocked.
What causes high cholesterol?
Elevated cholesterol levels in children can generally be linked to three factors:
- Genetics — a family history of elevated cholesterol, heart attacks and stroke
- Poor diet — especially diets high in saturated fats
- Lack of exercise — leading a sedentary lifestyle with low cardiovascular activity
“Children with mildly elevated cholesterol can modify their diet and incorporate exercise to control the issue,” Dr. Erenberg says. “But those with very high cholesterol may need medication to lower it.”
Cholesterol screenings should begin between ages 10 and 12. Health care professionals can check cholesterol in school-age children with a simple blood test.
Conducting such a test is especially important if there is a strong family history of heart disease or if a parent of the child has high cholesterol.
You can help lower your child’s cholesterol levels by encouraging your child to:
- Eat lean white meats like chicken and pork.
- Avoid saturated fats in foods such as butter, cheese and bacon.
- Bake food instead of frying it.
- Use olive and canola oils.
“It’s important for children to have their cholesterol checked; many adult heart diseases can be prevented if issues are taken care of during the formative years,” Dr. Erenberg says.