Teens, Children Recommended for Cholesterol Checks

The next time you bring in your child for her well visit, don’t be surprised if the doctor mentions checking her cholesterol. While cholesterol checks are normally associated with adults, the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends tweens, teens and young adults between the ages of 11 and 21 get tested, too. The leading reason for the change is the rising rate of obesity among young Americans and the associated health problems.

Found in every cell, cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance. The body uses it to make different hormones that help in food digestion. A person’s body makes enough cholesterol to do that important job, but some foods also contain cholesterol, raising the body’s overall amount. Cholesterol travels through the bloodstream and if there’s too much, it can block arteries and cause heart disease. A person can have high cholesterol and not know it which is why testing is so important.

A family history of high cholesterol, lipid problems or early heart disease are other reasons that may prompt us to consider screening a tween or teen for potential cholesterol problems.

Tweens and teens who are overweight are more likely to develop high cholesterol and heart disease. Heart disease in a teenager or young adult? Yes. As more children become overweight, they can develop health problems that previously were only seen in adults. That’s why screening cholesterol levels is so important. If the teen’s numbers are high, steps can be taken to help get them back to normal.

Diet changes and increasing exercise are ways that anyone – including teens – can lower their cholesterol. On the diet side, the first step is limiting the intake of foods high in saturated fat, including baked goods, some meats and fried foods. Cutting sodium is also important since many foods high in salt also tend to be high in cholesterol. Next, increase the intake of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish and legumes, such as chick peas, kidney beans and lentils. If cereal is common for breakfast, be sure to choose one that’s high in fiber, which can also promote healthy cholesterol levels. In other words, pick Cheerios over Fruit Loops.

In addition to diet, exercise can help lower cholesterol. Studies show that 60 minutes of moderate, aerobic activity a week can help. For kids and teens, they should try getting at least 30 to 45 minutes a day of physical activity, whether it’s running around at recess, playing outside or doing some other physical activity. Too many kids come home after school and spend the rest of the day on the couch. Getting in some daily exercise has so many benefits besides lowering cholesterol.

If diet changes and exercise don’t work, medication is another option for anyone with high cholesterol. It’s important to bring it under control and lower the risk of heart problems.

By Dr. Michael Jakubowski, pediatrician at ThedaCare Physicians Pediatrics-Appleton.