Managing cholesterol problems in teens and kids

Children and adolescents at higher risk for cardiovascular disease with elevated LDL values above their target goals are advised to undergo nutritional counselling and take part in regular physical activity.

Key Highlights

– High cholesterol in children can be passed on from parents to children, or can be caused by obesity and diet.
– Most young people with high LDL cholesterol and high triglycerides are best treated with diet and exercise changes.
– If diet and exercise don’t work to bring cholesterol levels down, your doctor may recommend treatment with statins, which are drugs to reduce cholesterol.

Many of us think that high cholesterol is an age progression related problem and that it is a health risk only for adults. Very fewer of us know that the risks from high cholesterol can start in childhood. Even young children may have high cholesterol.

High cholesterol in the blood can lead to a build-up of plaque in the arteries and a higher risk of heart disease. Understanding childhood cholesterol and making simple lifestyle and dietary choices can help prevent serious health risks in your child’s future.

What is cholesterol and how does it affect children?

Cholesterol is a fatty substance in the body that plays an important structural and functional role for cell membranes and hormones.

Let us break down cholesterol to its constituents:

1. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL): Produced primarily in the liver. Excess LDL can get deposited in blood vessel walls
2. High-density lipoproteins (HDL): Removes excess LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream and is sometimes referred to as “good” cholesterol
3. Very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL): Produced in the liver and transported in the bloodstream to move cholesterol to the organs
4. Triglycerides: Fatty acids or a type of fat. They are the most common type of fat in your body. They come from foods, especially butter, oils, and other fats you eat. If one regularly eats more calories than one burns, particularly from high-carbohydrate foods, such a person may have high triglycerides (hypertriglyceridemia).

How much Cholesterol is TOO MUCH?

Cholesterol serves an important function in our body, and not all high cholesterol is bad. In fact, we want the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, or “healthy” cholesterol, to be high (greater than 45 mg/dl is best). But the other cholesterol values — total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL)-cholesterol and triglycerides (TGs) — should be kept below certain thresholds, as much as you can keep it. Experts say that total cholesterol less than 170 mg/dl, LDL cholesterol less than 110 mg/dl, and triglycerides less than 90 mg/dl are best.

Which children are at risk?

– Children with a family history of high cholesterol
– Children who have an onset of early heart disease
– Children with elders in the bloodline having high cholesterol
– Kids from families with a history of a heart attack – before age 55 for a man or before age 65 for a woman
– Children who are overweight or obese

What causes high cholesterol in kids?

– Genetic factors
– Poor nutrition, calorie-dense, nutritionally poor diet
– Lack of exercise
– Early-onset of heart disease

How do you know if a child had high cholesterol?

– Since the incidence of high cholesterol in children is growing, experts suggest that children and teenagers should also be tested routinely for cholesterol levels and screened by their paediatrician.

– The only way to know with certainty whether a child has high cholesterol is to perform a complete lipid profile using a blood test.

– Their cholesterol levels should be checked once when they are between 9 and 11 years old, and again when they are between 17 and 19.

Treatment of childhood high-cholesterol problem:

If a lipid screening test shows that your child’s cholesterol is high, your doctor will recommend what actions to take. Follow the doctor’s advice and take the prescribed medicines without fail.

Apart from medicines which the doctor may or may not decide to prescribe/administer, the first treatment approach for high cholesterol in children involves lifestyle changes that can benefit the entire family:

1. Lose weight
2. Eat healthy foods
3. Exercise more
4. Changes in diet
5. Increase physical activity
6. Move about as much as possible, play games involving high physical activity
7. Slouching on couches to watch TV is an absolute no-no
8. Reduce electronic screen (in front of computers, tablets, TVs) exposure time
9. Minimize the amount of time spent on phones
10. Test regularly and see a doctor

Keep the child motivated, share these facts:

– Whether overweight or not, exercise can reduce bad cholesterol, increase good cholesterol.
– Unless the doctor has told otherwise, exercise at least 30 minutes a day
– Take brisk walks, or ride bicycles, or swim a while every day
– Find an exercise buddy or join an exercise group, play a sport
– Take the stairs instead of the elevator can make a difference.

Disclaimer: Tips and suggestions mentioned in the article are for general information purpose only and should not be construed as professional medical advice. Always consult your doctor or a dietician before starting any fitness programme or making any changes to your diet.


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