Cholesterol in Kids: Keeping It Under Control

Cholesterol in Kids: Keeping It Under Control

High cholesterol is a health problem we often associate with adults, but it can affect children too. When it does, it can put a child at risk later in life. For example, high cholesterol plays a role in the fatty plaque buildup that causes arteries to harden. This condition, known as atherosclerosis, can start in childhood and lead to coronary artery disease in adulthood.

Should My Child Be Screened?

If your child isn't overweight, eats a healthy diet, is physically active and doesn't have a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease, he may not need cholesterol screening. But if high cholesterol levels run in your family or if you're not sure, ask your doctor whether your child should be screened.

Health experts often talk about two types of cholesterol: "good" cholesterol (HDL) and "bad" cholesterol (LDL). LDL cholesterol is the main culprit in heart problems, so it's important to keep these levels low.

Here are cholesterol level guidelines from the American Heart Association and the National Cholesterol Education Program:

LDL cholesterol levels in children and teens 2 to 19 years old

Acceptable — Less than 110 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter)
Borderline — 110 to129 mg/dL
High — 130 mg/dL or greater

Total cholesterol levels (HDL + LDL) in children and teens 2 to 19 years Old

Acceptable — less than 170 mg/dL
Borderline — 170 to 199 mg/dL
High— 200 mg/dL or greater

Cholesterol Medication

Children older than eight years old who have very high LDL cholesterol levels (usually 190 mg/dL or greater) may be given medicines called statins. A doctor may prescribe statins to your child if she has been diagnosed with familial hypercholesterolemia (an inherited condition in which a person is born with high levels of LDL cholesterol) and if diet and exercise have not lowered the cholesterol levels enough.

Lifestyle Tips

Regardless of your child's cholesterol levels, proper diet and exercise are needed to keep cholesterol levels under control as well as to maintain overall health. Here are some ways to incorporate a nutritious diet and physical activity into your child's life:

Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Children two years old and older should eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

Choose lean meats. Lean cuts of meat include round, sirloin, tenderloin, and chuck. For poultry, the leanest choice is skinless, white breast meat. Be sure to include fish, beans (such as peas, dried beans, and lentils), and tofu in meals as healthy alternatives to meat. In addition:

  • Limit foods that are high in cholesterol.
  • Limit foods that are high in saturated or trans fat.
  • Consume nonfat or low-fat milk and dairy products.
  • When cooking, don't use solid fats. Instead, use vegetable oil. When buttering bread or corn-on-the-cob, use soft margarine.
  • Avoid foods and drinks that contain lots of sugar.
  • Muffins, donuts, and cupcakes may not be the best snack option for your child. Opt for healthy snacks such as fresh fruit, vegetables with low-fat dip, popcorn and low-fat yogurt.
  • Make time for play! Children should get plenty of exercise, as this helps boost HDL cholesterol levels. For children two years old and older, aim for at least an hour of physical activity a day.

Children look to adults as lifestyle examples. Therefore, your entire family should be involved in eating right and exercising. This will ensure that both you and your children can lead healthy lives together.

This content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Sears.