Cholesterol and Your Child
As adults, we know we need to watch our cholesterol in order to maintain good health. But did you know that children can have high cholesterol, too? As a parent, you can take steps today to monitor your child’s cholesterol and reduce your child’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease later in life.
How Do I Know if My Child Has High Cholesterol?
Your child can have a simple blood to screen cholesterol levels during their annual well-child doctor’s visit. This test, also known as a fasting lipid profile, measures the levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and triglycerides, or blood fats.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a cholesterol screening for children and adolescents who:
- Have a family history of high cholesterol or early heart disease
- Are overweight or obese.
- Have diabetes, high blood pressure or smoke.
- Have an unknown family medical history.
If your child has any of these risk factors, a first screening is recommended after age 2. If the screening shows an acceptable cholesterol level, your child should be screened again in three to five years.
Controlling Your Child’s Cholesterol
For children 8 years or older with very high cholesterol levels or high levels with a family history of early heart disease, medication should be considered in consultation with your child’s physician. However, most often, weight management, including a healthy diet and plenty of physical activity, is the best approach to helping children maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
Parents can also help manage the fat in a child’s diet in order to keep them on track. Follow these guidelines (from ages 2 to 18):
- Fat should supply 30 percent of your child’s daily calories.
- Reduce saturated fats to no more than 10 percent of the day’s calories (7 percent for children in the high-risk group). Foods high in saturated fat include butter, lunch meats and bacon.
- Limit cholesterol to less than 300 milligrams each day (200 milligrams for high-risk children). Foods high in cholesterol include eggs and high-fat milk, meats and cheese.
- Cut back the amount of fruit juice, sugar-sweetened beverages and foods, and salt your child consumes.
- Check food labels for nutritional information, including cholesterol and saturated fat content.
- Encourage your child to eat more fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains and low-fat dairy products.
In addition, help make exercise a family affair right from the start. Walk the dog together, jump rope, ride bikes, swim and promote fun, healthy ways to enjoy each other’s company, all while helping maintain good cholesterol levels.