When it comes to getting routine wellness checks, most parents don’t ask pediatricians specifically about their child’s cholesterol levels. Although there’s been a lot said in the media and in pharmaceutical sales pitches about “good” HDL cholesterol range and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, parents don’t generally absorb that information in regards to how it might affect their kids. After all, unhealthy cholesterol levels for prolonged periods of time often result in heart attacks, clogged arteries and other conditions that most people associate with adults and seniors.
Having unhealthy cholesterol levels, however, is a problem that can affect anyone, whether they’re in a preschool or a nursing home. Much of the reason for this is because of the fast-food lifestyle to which modern society has become accustomed. Fast food has become a staple of many families’ diets as they rush their kids from one activity to another throughout the day. This trend of unhealthy eating is evidenced in the growing epidemic of obesity among today’s youth. Approximately 1 in 3 children in the United States is considered obese. Because of this alarming statistic, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids between the ages of 9 and 11 get routine cholesterol screenings. In addition, children that considered at high risk for developing elevated cholesterol levels should be tested even earlier, starting at age 2. This high risk group includes:
Kids who have a genetic inclination towards high cholesterol because a parent or grandparent has it
Kids who are already obese
Kids whose family health history is not known
Kids who have someone in their family with a history of heart disease, blood disease, diabetes, smoking or obesity
Whether or not you feel your child is at risk for having high LDL cholesterol levels, there are some things that you can do starting today to help prevent a chronic problem with this issue and to keep your child’s levels within the “good” HDL cholesterol range.
For starters, having your kids drink lots of water everyday helps to keep their systems flushed of toxins and is generally good for aiding with proper digestion and preventing cravings for sugary drinks.
Regular exercise, in the form of after-school sports or even a simple walk done together as a family after dinner is great for counteracting the effects of too much television, computer time and “couch potato syndrome.” At a minimum, says Dr. Jennifer Shu, a spokesperson for the AAP, children should be getting at least 60 minutes of exercise per day.
Lastly, even with a busy schedule, try to incorporate as many fruits, vegetables, lean meats and whole grains as possible into your child’s daily diet. You may not be able to reach that goal all the time, but just remember that it’s not about perfection -- it’s about making small weekly changes that, in the long run, can have a big impact on your child’s future health and eating habits.