Unhealthy levels of cholesterol have been found in one in five American kids, and the most concerning high cholesterol levels have been found in 8% of US children, according to a new survey.
Maggie Fox of NBC News reports the worst cholesterol levels were discovered in older kids and teenagers, with nearly 27% of 16- to 19-year-olds having at least one red flag for unhealthy cholesterol, reports the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).
Young people who weighed more were more likely to have unhealthy cholesterol levels. Over 43% of obese children had harmful cholesterol measurements.
These findings strengthen recommendations to have even young children begin screening for cholesterol. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends cholesterol screening for all kids ages 9-11.
Heart disease can begin early in life, and blockages in arteries can start as soon as three-years-old. Ultrasound screenings have found children as young as 10 having arteries as clogged as some middle-aged adults.
A form of cholesterol known as familial hypercholesterolemia can be inherited by kids, but a more far-reaching effect on kids’ cholesterol levels is diet. Children’s cholesterol levels can be high because of sugary and fatty foods. If regular exercise is not a part of a child’s life, this too can affect cholesterol levels.
The NCHS team studied information from 2011 to 2014 which was available from a large health survey in the US. They found that 21% of young people had high total cholesterol, low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, or high non-HDL cholesterol.
Thirteen percent had low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. The researchers said that HDL carries the bad cholesterol away, which makes them valuable. Sugary drinks are a significant problem, and the trend for kids to be less active is another reason the HDLs are getting lower.
Also, 8.4% had high LDL or low-density cholesterol that is the cause of clogged arteries. Over 14% of kids ages 6-8 had cholesterol levels that were abnormal, as well as 26.9% of teens from 16 to 19.
Girls were more likely to have high cholesterol than boys. Almost 9% of girls had high cholesterol compared to 6% of boys, reported the researchers. There was no noticeable difference in cholesterol levels based on race.
Rachel Rettner of Fox News says the AAP suggests repeating the cholesterol test if a screening shows the presence of high cholesterol. If it is still abnormal, doctors will have to analyze the results to determine if the levels are due to a condition such as obesity or underactive thyroid.
The Mayo Clinic says if older children are not able to raise HDLs and lower LDLs by increased exercise, a healthy diet, and weight loss, or because of other medical conditions along with high cholesterol levels, they may need to take medication.
A Data Brief by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics was published December 10, writes E.J. Mundell for CBS News.
“When one looks at the data it is clear that the obesity epidemic is responsible for a substantial portion of these abnormal cholesterol values,” said Dr. Michael Pettei, who co-directs preventive cardiology at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. “Approximately one-third of U.S. children and adolescents are either overweight or obese.”