Can High Cholesterol Affect Children Too?

We often tend to associate high cholesterol only with adults. But, can an obesity and unhealthy lifestyle lead to this condition in children? Read on to find out.

By Ashwin Dewan

Can High Cholesterol Affect Children Too?

Shilpa Sachdev could never have imagined that a routine trip to the doctor for her son could leave her shocked. Although her four-year-old son was putting on weight rapidly, Shilpa thought it was normal and a case of baby fat. The diagnosis revealed otherwise. Her son had unhealthy cholesterol levels. Being fat does not necessarily mean being fit, and this applies to children as well.

The above case proves that while children are not as vulnerable as adults to suffer from high cholesterol, it is not entirely uncommon. According to an article published in a leading news website, a study conducted by a senior cardiologist on 2000 plus school student between the ages of 14-18 years in the city of Delhi resulted in alarming figures. Of the students, almost 23 per cent were suffering from high cholesterol levels.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a wax-like substance made by the liver to help form the walls of cells and organs. It is a vital part of the brain and nervous system with the liver converting the fat one eats into cholesterol. 

Possible causes of cholesterol in children:

Elevated or high cholesterol in children can be linked to three factors:

  • Genetics: Where one or both parents have a history of high cholesterol.
  • A poor diet: Junk and processed foods that contain high amounts of sodium, a diet high in fats particularly saturated and trans fats.
  • A sedentary lifestyle: Absence of physical activity, remaining indoors most of the time, obesity.

Symptoms of high cholesterol in children:

There are generally no signs or symptoms of high cholesterol in children. For adults, symptoms include small fat deposits on their skin.

High cholesterol levels can increase your child’s risk of heart disease and stroke when he or she gets older. This ClipBook looks at ways to reduce cholesterol in children.

Screening for high cholesterol in children:

Normally, screening for cholesterol in children should begin at the ages of 10 and 12. Undergoing such tests becomes necessary when there is a strong family history of heart disease or if a parent of the child has high cholesterol.

Treatment:

It has been observed that most children who suffer from high blood cholesterol have parents with similar problems. While in some cases like overweight children, weight management is the primary treatment, in other cases, drug treatment can be considered.

  • A healthy diet: For children who suffer from high blood cholesterol, a diet low in total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol should be followed. A leading health website says the amount of total fat a child consumes should be 30 per cent or less of daily total calories.
  • Regular exercise: Encourage your child to indulge in regular physical activity such as running, biking, walking, swimming, etc. which can help raise ‘good’ levels of cholesterol.
  • Avoid processed and junk foods: Junk or fast foods like pizzas, burgers and colas may be popular with children but they contribute nothing to health and may lead to cholesterol problems.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Ensure your child eats 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Include apples, bananas, broccoli, carrots, peas in the diet.
  • Talk to the doctor about medication: Be careful while using medicines to treat high cholesterol in children. Use medications only after changes in diet and lifestyle have been tried.
Can High Cholesterol Affect Children Too?

Children can suffer from high cholesterol but if a proper diet along with changes in lifestyle is made, cholesterol can be kept at bay.

Types of cholesterol:

Cholesterol is of two types:

1) Low-density lipoproteins: These are the ‘bad’ cholesterol. Too much buildup of LDL results in the formation of plaque, which causes the blood vessels to become blocked. This can result in a heart attack.

2) High-density lipoproteins: These are the ‘good’ cholesterol. They carry the cholesterol away from the arteries back to the liver and prevent the formation of plaque.

While most parents think that children cannot suffer from cholesterol at all, elevated cholesterol levels in children can result in heart disease and stroke later in adulthood. According to the American Heart Association, there is sound research that the process of cholesterol buildup in arteries begins in childhood.

With inputs from Dr Binoy John, Cardiologist, Chennai.

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