While some health conditions seem to affect only the young and others impact only older people, high cholesterol is one that doesn’t discriminate by age.
Though this condition is more common in older people, it can affect children, too. Even very young kids can develop higher-than-optimal levels of the waxy substance in the blood that increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
If your child receives a diagnosis of high cholesterol, you may be wondering how to go about bringing their numbers down to a healthier point. Here’s a look at various strategies that can help.
Just like with adults, the first strategy for reducing kids’ cholesterol is often making dietary changes. This means helping your child follow a heart-healthy eating plan that includes the following:
- whole grains, such as whole-wheat bread and pasta, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, farro, and bulgur
- healthy fats like nuts and seeds, their butters, olive oil, and fatty fish
- low fat dairy, including milk, cheese, and yogurt
- fresh, frozen, or canned fruits and vegetables
- lean protein, such as chicken, turkey, fish, and soy foods
- beans and legumes like chickpeas, black beans, and lentils
As you work to incorporate these nutritious foods into your child’s diet, there are some to watch out for, too. Do your best to limit foods and drinks with lots of added sugars, as well as foods high in saturated fats, like red meat, butter, ice cream, cookies, and french fries.
Diet is a great place to start for bringing your child’s cholesterol numbers down to a healthier range, but other lifestyle measures can have a significant impact as well.
Added physical activity is another important element in a cholesterol-reducing tool kit.
A small 2015 study and 2006 research review showed a significant decrease in overall triglycerides that correlated with aerobic exercise in children and adolescents. Some decreases in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol were associated with increased intensity of exercise.
Even if a run around the block or playing basketball doesn’t directly lower your child’s cholesterol, it may have a ripple effect. Physical activity promotes weight loss, which can lead to lower numbers.
Consider involving your child in a sport of their choice, encouraging them to play physical games like tag or hide-and-seek, or making a habit of an after-dinner walk as a family.
Another place to start: Try replacing some screen time with physical activity, reserving tablets, phones, and other devices for only certain hours of the day, or using the devices as rewards for positive behavior.
Lifestyle changes are typically the first line of defense for treating high cholesterol in kids. But depending on the severity of your child’s high cholesterol, their age, and the presence of other health complications, your pediatrician may recommend treatment with pharmaceuticals.
Bile acid sequestrants and statins are among the most common medications healthcare professionals recommend. The bile acid sequestrants may include cholestyramine and colesevelam.
When your child receives a diagnosis of high cholesterol, it’s only natural to wonder why. Why them? And especially why now, at such a young age?
Often, it all comes down to genetics. A condition called familial hypercholesterolemia is an inheritable propensity toward high levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and low levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
That said, not every child who develops high cholesterol has a family history of it. Other factors can cause high cholesterol levels, too. Typically, obesity and diet are the greatest contributors.
But when obesity and diet are the causes of your child’s high cholesterol, helping them maintain a moderate weight and shift their diet toward more nutritious eating may rectify the health concern.
The only way to determine cholesterol levels is via a blood test. If you or your doctor suspects that your child might have high cholesterol, they may order a test that measures the amount of cholesterol particles in the blood.
The numbers that indicate borderline or high blood cholesterol in children are as follows, according to
|Borderline levels||LDL cholesterol: 110–129 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)||Total cholesterol: 70–199 mg/dL|
|High levels||LDL cholesterol: 130 mg/dL or higher||Total cholesterol: 200 mg/dL or higher|
As discussed, family history, a diet low in nutrients, and obesity are the most common risk factors for children to develop high cholesterol.
Less frequently, having a chronic disease like diabetes or kidney disease may also increase risk.
Research shows that type 1 diabetes and cardiovascular health often go hand in hand. A 2019 study showed that cardiovascular risk factors were present in up to
In both children and adults, high cholesterol doesn’t usually have any symptoms — so you probably won’t notice any indicators, even if your child’s levels are quite high.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends testing cholesterol levels for all children between the ages of 9 and 11.
If you know you have a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease, especially if other family members have been diagnosed as children, you may want to ask your pediatrician to run blood labs on your child before those ages.
The same holds true if your child or other family members have diabetes, kidney disease, or high blood pressure.
Since having more weight is another risk factor for high cholesterol in kids, you may request a blood test if your child has overweight or obesity.
Just remember, if you’re concerned about your child’s cardiovascular health for any reason, you can bring it up with your child’s medical professional.
Finding out your child has high cholesterol can be alarming, but there are numerous ways to treat this condition. Many treatments are adjustments you can make at home.
The more you help your child become aware of lifestyle elements like a nutritious diet and exercise, the more they can become empowered to make choices for themselves — ultimately bettering their chances of keeping cholesterol manageable.