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How common is high cholesterol in kids?

A study has investigated the percentage of children and adolescents with unhealthy cholesterol levels and whether this is a cause for concern.

High cholesterol levels are very common in American adults. High cholesterol is a risk factor for developing heart disease because it contributes to the formation of plaques in the arteries. This is not ideal as this increases the chance of having a heart attack or stroke. But is high cholesterol in kids a problem?

Like adults, children can also have high cholesterol levels. A recent U.S. study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined the cholesterol levels of children and adolescents across the country from 1999 to 2016.

Researchers reviewed cholesterol levels from a total of 26,047 children and adolescents aged six to 19 between 1999 and 2016. Blood was drawn in a non-fasting state, meaning participants did not have to fast prior to examination. The ideal measures of cholesterol in kids were as follows: total cholesterol of less than 170 milligrams per decilitre, low-density lipoprotein or “bad” cholesterol of less than 110mg/dL, and high-density lipoprotein or “good” cholesterol of greater than 45mg/dL. It is important to note that the same group of children was not followed from 1999 to 2016; one group of children was observed in 1999 and a different group of children was observed in 2016.

At the end of the study, only 51.4 percent of youths had ideal cholesterol levels, and 15.2 percent of children between six and eleven years of age and 25.2 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 19 had at least one adverse cholesterol level.  This may sound alarming, but the levels of cholesterol in participants actually improved from 1999 to 2016.  The mean total cholesterol level across all participants decreased from 164mg/dL in 1999 to 155mg/dL in 2016.  Over the same time period, the mean level of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol increased from 52.5mg/dL to 55.0mg/dL and the mean level of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol decreased from 92mg/dL to 86mg/dL.

The improvement of cholesterol levels in youths is surprising, as childhood and adolescent obesity rates have increased significantly from 1999 to 2016. Further research is needed to determine the reason behind this improvement.

Fortunately, there are many simple ways to improve cholesterol levels in people of all ages. Regular exercise and a healthy diet low in saturated fat and dietary cholesterol are both great strategies to help reach optimal blood cholesterol levels as well as improve overall health. Cholesterol-lowering drugs like statins also exist, however they are typically prescribed to older adults rather than youths. For children and people of all ages, it is a good idea to get enough physical activity and consume a healthy diet as it is a great strategy to improve overall health and prevent issues with cholesterol.

Written by Avery Bisbee

Reference: Perak, A. M., MD, MS, Ning, H., MD, MS, Kit, B. K., MD, MPH, DeFerranti, S. D., MD, MPH, Van Horn, L. V., PhD, RD, Wilkins, J. T., MD, MS, & Lloyd-Jones, D. M., MD, ScM. (2019). Trends in Levels of Lipids and Adipolipoprotein B in US Youths Aged 6 to 19 Years, 1999-2016. Journal of American Medical Assocation,321(19), 1895-1905. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.4984

Image by Bessi from Pixabay



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