Heart disease doesn’t just happen overnight. There is an increasing problem with high cholesterol and children, along with very convincing evidence that heart disease begins in childhood. The buildup of fatty plaque in your arteries may have started when you were a child and is progressing slowly as you age. This is known as the atherosclerotic process. This, in turn, leads to the number one cause of death in the US, coronary heart disease.
Over the past twenty years, there has been great success in achieving less deaths from heart disease but it still causes over 400, 000 deaths each year. About 7%, or 16 million US adults have coronary heart disease and many of these have children who have high cholesterol and are in the process of developing heart disease.
Preventing Heart Disease Begins in Childhood
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the evidence shows that:
- Atherosclerosis or its precursors begin in children.
- Elevated cholesterol levels in childhood may play a role in the development of adult atherosclerosis.
- Eating patterns and genetics affect blood cholesterol levels and coronary heart disease risk.
- Lowering levels in children and adolescents may be beneficial.
- Cigarette smoking should be discouraged for both children and adults.
- Regular aerobic exercise should be encouraged at all ages.
- High blood pressure should be identified and treated.
- Overweight at any age should be avoided or reduced.
- Diabetes mellitus should be diagnosed early and treated.
Recommended Cholesterol Levels in Children
If you have children, have them tested at least once to establish a baseline. Have your child checked especially if you have high cholesterol or if there is a strong family history of heart disease or early heart attacks.
How soon should you test your child? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the first screening after age 2, but no later than age 10.
Here are the possible ranges of total and LDL cholesterol for children and what they mean, according to the AHA:
Cholesterol levels in children and adolescents 2-19 years old
Total cholesterol (mg/dL)
Acceptable — less than 170
Borderline — 170-199
High — 200 or greater
LDL cholesterol (mg/dL)
Acceptable — less than 110
Borderline — 110-129
High — 130 or greater
If your child’s cholesterol is normal, have them tested again in 3-5 years.
Causes of High Cholesterol in Children
There are three risk factors linked to high cholesterol in children. They are:
It is usually the case that if a child has high cholesterol, one or both of the parents have it, too.
Unfortunately, weight is not a reliable predictor of high cholesterol in children. Many children of normal weight are getting high cholesterol, too, as this video will show you:
Preventing High Cholesterol in Children
Preventing high cholesterol in children, and even treating most cases of high cholesterol in children, is best with diet and exercise. Involve the whole family in the following recommendations from webmd.com:
- Eat foods low in total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. The amount of total fat a child consumes should be 30% or less of daily total calories. This suggestion does NOT apply to children under the age of two. Saturated fat should be kept to less than 10% of daily total calories while trans fat should be avoided as much as possible. For children in the high-risk group, saturated fat should be restricted to 7% of total calories and dietary cholesterol to 200 milligrams a day.
- Select a variety of foods so your child can get all the nutrients he or she needs.
- Exercise regularly. Regular aerobic exercise, such as biking, running, walking, and swimming, can help raise HDL levels (the “good” cholesterol) and lower your child’s risk for cardiovascular disease.