Teen Cholesterol Levels Are Improving, But Only Half Have Ideal Levels
A new report on cholesterol levels in children brings some promising news, but now is not the time for complacency.
There is still room for improvement in the cardiovascular health of young people.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at lipid health indicators in U.S. children ages 6 to 19 between 1999 and 2016. Researchers noted several “positive trends” during the 17-year period, including lower average cholesterol levels, lower average triglycerides, and improvements in HDL (good cholesterol).
The study used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which included more than 26,000 young adults, about half of whom were women.
“This study is the first of its kind,” Amanda Mamah-Perak, assistant professor of pediatric cardiology and preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and first author of the study, told Healthline.
“In this study, we found that all of the different lipid markers actually improved over time: …… So that’s good news.” He said.
These results are consistent with those of two previous national studies conducted from 1988 to 1994 and two national studies conducted from 2007 to 2012, both of which showed improvements in adolescents’ cholesterol levels.
Despite these positive trends, they don’t tell the whole story.
The Perak study found that only about half (47-51%) of young people had an ideal lipid profile.
About a quarter (19% to 25%) had at least one unfavorable lipid level.
“There’s still a lot of room for improvement.” said Dr. David Fagan, associate dean of pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y.
Fagan was not involved in the study.
The report highlights overall improvements in cholesterol levels over the past few decades and highlights differences in heart health among young people.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance that is found in every cell in the body. Cholesterol is produced by the liver and is also found in some foods such as meat and dairy products. The body needs a little cholesterol to function properly. However, if your child or teenager has high cholesterol (high levels of cholesterol in the blood), he or she is at higher risk for heart disease (including coronary heart disease).
What causes high cholesterol in children and adolescents?
There are three main factors that contribute to high cholesterol in children and adolescents.
- An unhealthy diet, especially one that is high in fat.
- A family history of high cholesterol, especially if one or both parents have high cholesterol levels
Some diseases, such as diabetes, kidney disease, and thyroid disease, can also lead to high cholesterol levels in children and adolescents.
What are the symptoms of high cholesterol in children and adolescents?
Often, children and adolescents do not have signs or symptoms of high cholesterol.
How do I know if my child or teenager has high cholesterol?
There is a blood test that measures cholesterol levels. This test provides information about
- Total cholesterol – measures the total amount of cholesterol in the blood. It includes both low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.
- LDL (bad) cholesterol – The main cause of cholesterol buildup and artery blockage.
- HDL cholesterol (good) – HDL helps remove cholesterol from the arteries.
- Non-HDL – This number is your total cholesterol minus your HDL. Your non-HDL includes cholesterol, such as LDL and VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein).
- Triglycerides – another form of blood fat that may increase your risk of heart disease.
How to get healthy
Cholesterol is part of what the American Heart Association calls the “7 Simple Words to Live By” and is just one of the factors that contribute to overall cardiovascular health.
The seven factors were blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, activity level, diet, weight and smoking.
“If you look at this study in the context of overall heart health, it’s a good indicator,” Dr. Fagan said.
Cholesterol levels are one of a group of other childhood health problems that need treatment.
Childhood obesity has more than tripled since 1970, and about one in five school-age children in the U.S. has childhood cholesterol, which, unlike the obesity epidemic, has become a highly visible major public health target, according to the CDC. reliable sources.
“Cholesterol is one of the silent risk factors that can make children with abnormal cholesterol levels feel uncomfortable. So, parents may not know that.” Perry said.
Both childhood obesity and cholesterol levels are important risk factors for cardiovascular disease later in life. Unfortunately, Perak says, they “travel together a lot.
“A lot of the children I see in the clinic with abnormal cholesterol, they also have risk factors for obesity, poor diet and lack of exercise.” He said.
Cholesterol is the cause of atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque on the walls of the arteries that can eventually lead to a heart attack. Obesity is associated with a number of serious health problems, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
However, children rarely have heart attacks or other visible episodes. Therefore, monitoring indicators such as cholesterol is almost entirely preventive – a way to ensure good health in adulthood.
The goal is to maintain ideal blood lipid levels and weight from an early age.
What parents can do
Cholesterol levels aren’t always obvious to parents, so it’s best to understand the current recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Children should be screened for cholesterol between the ages of 9 and 11 and again between the ages of 17 and 21.
In addition to proper screening, improving cardiovascular health in childhood (and frankly, for all ages) is a lifestyle issue.
“The first and most important thing you can do in your life is to optimize your lifestyle: optimize your diet, make sure you’re getting enough exercise, don’t sit still, control your weight-those kinds of things are important for everyone.” Perry said.
Unfortunately, other studies have shown that teens don’t always take the possibility of high cholesterol seriously, especially when the risk of heart disease is still far away. We are currently studying the attitudes of teens and young adults toward heart disease and have found that while awareness of heart disease is still low, teens are eager to learn how to live their healthiest, best lives.
A free online tool developed by the Harvard TC Chan School of Public Health, found that the Healthy Heart Score accurately predicts early events of heart disease in young adults. If you have concerns about your teen’s cholesterol or heart health, consider evaluating the Healthy Heart Score for your family and talk to your doctor.