Children & Cholesterol: What Age Is This Possible At?
Most people don't even think about cholesterol until they're well into adulthood. But the truth is; high cholesterol can occur in people of any age, even children. While cholesterol tests aren't usually performed on children younger than 2, recent research suggests that the complications of high cholesterol, like heart disease and stroke, often start their development in childhood.
So what exactly is this cholesterol stuff? Well, it's a waxy, fatty substance produced in the liver to help build cell walls, hormones, and some tissues. It should therefore make sense that you can also get cholesterol from eating other animal's cell walls and hormones (like the ones in meat and other animal products like eggs and milk). Even though we get some cholesterol from the foods we eat, our liver actually makes all the cholesterol we need to survive, about 1000 milligrams (or 1 gram) each day.
"Good" and "Bad" Cholesterol
You've probably heard that cholesterol can be split into two categories: good and bad. It's actually where the cholesterol is located that makes it good or bad. Cholesterol binds with certain proteins which take it to different areas of the body. The primary cholesterol carriers are called low-density lipoproteins (LDL). They bring cholesterol from the liver and out to the tissues through the bloodstream. Now while this process is obviously important for the creation of cell walls, too much LDL can cause the cholesterol to build up in artery walls - the main cause of heart attacks and stroke. The other type of cholesterol carriers are called high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and are responsible for carrying cholesterol away from the arteries and into to liver where it can be processed and excreted.
Risk Factors for High Cholesterol in Children
If children exhibit high cholesterol it is most likely the result of two or more of the following factors: high-fat diet, lack of exercise, and genetic predisposition. Children with high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, and those who are around smoke are also at an increased risk for developing high cholesterol.
Testing for High Cholesterol
A simple blood test performed by your doctor can be used to determine your child's cholesterol level. The following ranges of acceptable, borderline, and high cholesterol levels apply to children and young adults between the ages of 2 and 19:
- Acceptable: Less than 170 mg/dL
- Borderline: 170-199 mg/dL
- High: 200 mg/dL or greater
Ways to Keep Your Children's Cholesterol Down
Make sure your kids are getting plenty of raw fruits and vegetables. Substitute healthy snacks like plain popcorn, pretzels, or raw vegetables and low-fat dip for the common highly-processed kids snacks sold in the snack aisle. Stay active with fun exercises like rollerblading, jumping rope, or biking. The good diet and exercise habits people have as children are very often carried over into adulthood, making it that much more important to teach your children good habits while they're still young.
Photo Credit: Tony Tran